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Chapter 3: An Overview of Ethics


What does it mean to be ethical? This question has been debated for centuries by many great minds. In spite of all the cogitation that has been done so far, no basic precepts have been accepted as a universal guide for conduct in our relations with one another. Nevertheless, the quality of our future, if we are to have a future at all, depends on our finding some satisfactory answers that can be accepted universally. (This is especially important for the leaders of communities around the globe.)

Finding a universal approach to understanding ethics will not be easy. Over the centuries, different systems of ethical theory have evolved, and advocates of each system claim superiority of theirs over the others. For some people, being ethical means following "God's commandments", promoting the "master race", or establishing a "worker's paradise" on earth. For others, being ethical means providing "the greatest good for the greatest number," in some cases through personal sacrifice, and in other cases, by forcing other people to sacrifice. For yet other ethical theorists, ethics means showing regard for the most elementary social unit on the planet&emdash;namely, the individual human being&emdash;by leaving people free to follow their own best wisdom.

Types of Ethical Theory

This chapter will begin by surveying the different types of ethical systems that have been developed to date. I classify them as follows: Edicts from God; Sacrifice as the Highest Virtue; Utilitarianism; Situation Ethics, Ethical Relativism and Individual Rights. Each system has its main points and side issues. In some cases, proponents of different ethical systems assert the same principles, but place emphasis in different places.

In addition to defining what constitutes the "supreme good," we also are faced with the problem of deciding whether acts should be judged based on intentions or on results. For some, the desire to do good is primary, so they expect to be forgiven should the results of their actions prove to be disastrous. For others, the road to "hell is paved with good intentions."1

In this chapter I do not offer a final solution for our problems, what I offer is a new approach to analyzing ethical issues. We will first consider the basic tenets of the main approaches to defining what constitutes ethical behavior. Then I will outline a new approach to ethical understanding by surveying and evaluating relationship dynamics. For lack of a better term, I am calling this system the Behavioral Analysis approach to ethics. This approach will focus on defining the general categories of behavior and outlining their consequences on our quality of life. Next, it will offer a system for "parsing" relationships, separating voluntary aspects of relationships from coercive aspects. These principles apply whether the relationship be personal, employment or political.

And now to begin the survey of the different ethical systems:

Edicts From God

Throughout history, many people have held religion and ethics to be synonymous. A good example is a bumper sticker I see every now and then: "God said it, I believe it; That settles it." However, I grew up around religious people and some of the most brutal back-stabbing I have ever seen was done in the name of ambition to be closer to the "right hand of God." On the other hand, some of the nicest and most respectable people I have ever met have also been very religious. Consequently, because the results can be so different among people who ostensibly worship the same God, we may wish to take a second look at this presumption. When the behavioral outcomes inspired from religious belief can range from bliss to holy wars, we are justified in suspecting there must be an even more fundamental variable that holds the key to defining ethical behavior.

In 1979 and 1980 I took an introductory class on the Teachings of Gurdjieff, taught by a man named Hugh Ripman. Early in our studies, he put us on notice that there were two words he would not be using for a long time because they were such subjective terms. Those words were Love and God.

In Chapter 1, the subjective nature of love was explored briefly. Regarding the subjective nature of God, A Sufi master once talked about having a dream that he was an ant. He quickly ran over to another ant and asked, "What is God like. Is God anything like you?" To which the ant replied, "Oh no! God is nothing like us. God has two stings!"2 In my own experience, I have met people who might just as well have said, "if you think I am angry and bitter, you should see my God!"

The first consistent observation I have made is nice people worship nice gods and angry people worship angry gods. The next observation I have made is that religious belief generally fosters peace only among fellow believers (except for the usual internal politics). Outsiders are therefore considered fair game. "In the past, the larger proportion of religions has helped only select groups of people, fostering harmony and friendship within that group, but greeting others with hostility. This is why religion has been such a divisive force in human history, a catalyst for war and destruction."3 Religion has frequently offered dual ethical systems, suggesting one code of conduct for relations among those within the group and another code for those outside of the group. This is not a strategy calculated to create trust and goodwill on a planetary scale.

Another major difficulty that arises from basing ethical systems on the "word of God" is that those edicts come from revelation, which may or may not accord with reason. Revelations must be filtered through the assumptions of those claiming such gifts, and then they are reinterpreted again and again through successive generations.

Peace and prosperity is peace and prosperity, and death and destruction is death and destruction, no matter who inspires it. To those who would suggest otherwise I ask, "Isn't it all one to the poor flies how they are killed? By a kick of the hooves of horned devils, or by a stroke of the beautiful wings of divine angels?"4

Because the outcomes of people's behavior are so different when motivated by "Edicts from God", I believe more concrete behavioral descriptions are in order if we are to enjoy improved personal and social relations.

Sacrifice as the Highest Virtue

History is filled with examples of ideals that demand the sacrifice of individual human beings for "higher causes" as defined by religious and political leaders. The first higher cause that comes to most people's minds is religious faith. The second popular higher cause calls for sacrifice for the community, which may be defined as anything from a tribe to a nation-state.

Although the inquisition has gotten the most press even though its atrocities are hundreds of years old, religious persecutions dwarf in comparison to the cult of statolatry that has swept the world in this century. Solzhenitsyn puts it in perspective for us.5 To begin with, he observes, ". . . in the twenty central provinces of Russia in a period of sixteen months (June, 1918, to October, 1919) more than sixteen thousand persons were shot, which is to say more than one thousand a month."6 Then in a footnote, he continues: "Now that we have started to make comparisons, here is another: during the eighty years of the Inquisition's peak effort (1420 to 1498), in all of Spain ten thousand persons were condemned to be burned at the stake&emdash;in other words, about ten a month."7

With so many causes demanding sacrifice, it is little wonder that so many have perished miserably over the centuries. This century alone has seen over 120 million people perish in forced labor camps for the glory of the State (which Hegel heralded as "the march of God through history.")

The key premise of this ethical system is the notion that sacrifice is the highest virtue. This ideal is usually promoted in conjunction with "higher causes" such as God, duty, the State, etc. One of the best known proponents of sacrifice was Immanuel Kant. On one hand, he offered this idea: "There is . . . but one categorical imperative: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law."8 Another way of saying "Do unto others as you have them do unto to you." On the other hand, he defined a virtuous person as being motivated solely by principle and duty, not by personal interest nor by concern for others. Following Kant came Hegel, who declared our first duty is to the State: "A single person, I need hardly say, is something subordinate, and as such he must dedicate himself to the ethical whole. Hence if the state claims life, the individual must surrender it."9 And to sum up what constitutes the highest virtue for both those who worship God and for those who worship the State: "The perfection of human nature is 'to feel much for others, little for ourselves.'"10

The call for sacrifice by our leaders can be very seductive. We know that our flesh and blood selves are limited and temporary, so if we can feel as though we are sacrificing for a higher cause, we get to enjoy a feeling of transcendence. "The genuine tragic hero sacrifices himself and all that is his for the universal, his deed and every emotion with him belongs to the universal, he is revealed, and in this self-revelation, he is the beloved son of ethics."11

In spite of such flattering descriptions of these beloved "sons of ethics," not everyone has been so impressed. Eric Hoffer saw the attraction to mass movements and the sacrifices such movements require as an attempt to escape a worthless self. "The burning conviction that we have a holy duty toward others is often a way of attaching our drowning selves to a passing raft. What looks like giving a hand is often a holding on for dear life. Take away our holy duties and you leave our lives puny and meaningless. . . . The vanity of the selfless, even those who practice utmost humility, is boundless."12

One of the major difficulties inherent in the morality of sacrifice is that people cannot live up to the ideal. "People can preach altruism but they cannot live it. Nor should they, for the genuine altruist voluntarily enslaves himself to the need and desires of every other person. The genuine altruist&emdash;if there could really be such a thing&emdash;is not a man but a doormat."13

In theory, if everyone accepted this ideal, there would be only givers on the planet and no takers or exploiters. At a church service I once heard this story:

"A man once made contact with his guardian angel. During their visit, he asked the angel what heaven and hell was really like. The angel decided to show him. First, they went to hell. In hell everyone was sitting at a banquet table brimming with all manner of culinary delights. However, there was one small problem. They had six-foot-long spoons chained to their wrists. Consequently, they were sitting around and being miserable because they were having trouble feeding themselves.
"Next, they went to heaven. Here, too, all were sitting at a banquet table covered with delicacies just like the folks in hell. Furthermore, they also had six-foot-long spoons chained to their wrists. But unlike the people in hell, they were laughing and having a good time.
"This perplexed the man, so he asked the angel what made the difference between heaven and hell, given that their situation was identical. The angel then pointed out that in hell, everyone was trying to feed themselves, while in heaven people were using their long spoons to feed one another from across the table."

This is a wonderful picture. But how has the ideal worked on this planet? It often happens that those most vocal in advocating sacrifice have successfully established themselves as administrators to collect the benefits of the sacrifices of others. "The more selfish a person, the more poignant his disappointments. It is the inordinately selfish, therefore, who are likely to be the most persuasive champions of selflessness."14

Susan Love Brown (et. al.) sums up how this morality of sacrifice expresses itself in public life. "The humanitarian seeks medical care for all&emdash;by force. He would encourage brotherhood&emdash;by force. He would make men good&emdash;by force. It is important to note that in a political system based on individual freedom a human being may practice any form of morality he wishes (including self-sacrifice) provided that he does not initiate force against others. But in a political system based on self-sacrifice the freedom to act upon one's beliefs is obliterated, because the humanitarian seeks to force his sense of 'duty' upon everyone else&emdash;he employs force to make one human being sacrifice for another."15

C.D. Broad, in Five Types of Ethical Theory, sums up the dilemma of the morality of sacrifice best. "In the first place so far from being thought wrong, it is thought to be an act of specially heroic virtue in certain circumstances for a soldier to sacrifice his life for his country, or for a doctor to do so for his patients, or for a scientist to do so for the advancement of knowledge. It must be admitted, however, that, although we thus admire people in certain circumstances for treating themselves as mere means, we should not feel justified in treating them that way without their consent."16

Utilitarianism: The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number

Our next theory to explore is Utilitarianism. At the heart of this theory is the ideal of "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."17 In the 1700s this idea was promoted by people such as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. Adam Smith in particular promoted the ideal of free markets and "enlightened self-interest" primarily as a means of creating more wealth which would make life better for everyone including people to whom wealth-creators gave no thought. In other words, freedom for individuals to produce and distribute goods as they saw fit was justified primarily as a means to a higher end. (Although Adam Smith is often called "the father of economics" he was first and foremost a moral philosopher.)

John Stuart Mill also agreed with the idea that people should be free to produce goods as they saw fit. However, for him, the distribution of goods, once produced, was no longer an economic concern&emdash;it was a moral/political concern. "The things once there, mankind, individually or collectively, can do with them as they please. They can place them at the disposal of whomever they please and on whatever terms . . . Even what a person has produced by his individual toil, unaided by anyone, he cannot keep, unless by the permission of society. Not only can society take it from him, [he could not keep his possessions] if society . . . did not . . . employ and pay people for the purpose of preventing him from being disturbed of [his] possessions. The distribution of wealth, therefore, depends on the laws and customs of society. . . ."18 He reasoned that because government helps people keep the results of their work, government should be free to redistribute that wealth in order to create a more just society. Robert Heilbroner waxed poetic over Mill's proclamation because, "It was a discovery of profound consequence. For it lifted the whole economic debate from the stifling realm of impersonal and inevitable law and brought it back into the arena of ethics and morality."19

Distribution could logically be considered separate from production if production were only a one-time event. However, production and consumption is an ongoing cycle. Today's experience affects tomorrow's behavior. Therefore, if a worker's production is appropriated today, even for "the greatest good for the greatest number," his or her enthusiasm for the next day's work will be diminished considerably.

The problem with using the greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number ideal as a guide for action is that it is very easy to have different ideas about what constitutes "the greatest good for the greatest number." Gandhi, for one, called this ideal into question when he suggested that, "it means in its nakedness that in order to achieve the supposed good of the 51 percent, the interest of the 49 percent may be, or rather, should be sacrificed."20

In the beginning, the philosophy of Utilitarianism freed people to work hard and create wealth, but ultimately it offered a moral-philosophical basis for those freedoms to be undermined later&emdash;all in the name of "the greatest good for the greatest number." Modern philosophers now campaign for massive redistribution of wealth in the name of the same ideal shared by Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. ("It did not take Mill long to grasp the contradiction in some terms and amend his political views accordingly. He ended his life as a self-proclaimed 'qualified socialist.'"21)

Like "God's commandments" and "sacrifice", the ideal of the "greatest good for the greatest number" is open to widely divergent interpretations and does not provide us with a stable guide for what constitutes ethical behavior. When the same philosophical system can be used to free people in one century only to help enslave them again in a later century, we might suspect a key element is missing.

Situation Ethics

"Situation ethics, which has come into prominence only recently, claims that the morality of an action depends on the situation and not on the application of a law to the case."22 This ethical system is a reaction to declarations such as "it is wrong to lie under any circumstance," or "if someone seeks to kill you, you should prefer to die rather than have blood on your hands."

To act on such a premise is to sign over the planet carte blanche to the predators. Consequently, some people felt something was wrong or missing in the formulations of earlier ethical codes.

In March 1994, I listened to a professor from the Iliff School of Theology address the subject of "Ethical Plumb Lines in Politics." Toward the end of his presentation, he brought up the issue of whether it is right to lie as a defense, as in the case of lying to the Gestapo about hiding Jews in the basement. He indicated that people are justified in lying under those circumstances, but because there was no principle available to offer a firm justification for such lying, he informed us that in gray areas such as these, we must rely on our own individual judgment.

Situation ethics calls attention to the "gray areas" not addressed by more absolutist ethical systems, but because it fails to offer a larger conceptual framework, proponents of situation ethics can only defend themselves by expressing the feeling that something is not quite right. And though they may not be true ethical relativists, they find themselves forced into that camp because they are unable to offer a system that meets the requirements of logic.

Ethical Relativism

Ethical Relativism takes over where Situation Ethics leaves off. Ethical relativism declares that there is no objective criteria for establishing objective ethical norms. Each culture has its own cultural norms which arise from the experience of the collective consciousness of that culture. Therefore, in the spirit of Shakespeare's Hamlet, "there is nothing good nor bad but what thinking makes it so." This being assumed, no one has the right under any circumstances to judge another culture with anything but an accepting attitude.

Whereas "edicts from God" comes from the mystic belief that true knowledge is revealed, ethical relativism has its basis in skepticism: the belief that knowledge is impossible. As noted in the encyclopedia, "A widespread and familiar form of skepticism is ethical relativism, the view that there is no one correct moral code for all times and peoples, that each group has its own morality relative to its wants and values, and that all moral ideas are necessarily relative to a particular culture. According to this view, cannibals are justified in eating human beings by the standards of their own culture even if not by the standards of Western culture, and there can be no basis for claiming that the standards of Western culture are superior to theirs."23 This would suggest that all standards are equal. A standard that holds life as its supreme value is considered no better than a standard that holds death up as its supreme value.

Some ethical relativists are more disturbed by industrial nations "eating" resources than they are by cannibals eating other human beings. While they condemn industrial nations in whom the unfortunate are poor, they celebrate cannibal cultures in whom the unfortunate are . . . dinner. Consequently, they may not be as relativistic as they make themselves out to be. A true ethical relativist would also accept the cultural and philosophical mores promoted by Western Civilization.

One of the hot topics of late is the custom of female circumcision. Many feminists like to jump on the bandwagon of cultural relativism because it is "politically correct," but some of them lose their certainty when they realize that to be consistent, they would have to condone female circumcision and the right of tribal leaders to inflict pain on their underlings, especially women and children.

In response to such customs, I call on the wisdom of Frederick Bastiat:

My attitude toward all other persons is well illustrated by this story from a celebrated traveler: He arrived one day in the midst of a tribe of savages, where a child had just been born. A crowd of soothsayers, magicians, and quacks&emdash;armed with rings, hooks, and cords&emdash;surrounded it. One said: "This child will never smell the perfume of a peace-pipe unless I stretch his nostrils." Another said: "He will never be able to hear unless I draw his ear-lobes down to his shoulders." A third said: "He will never see the sunshine unless I slant his eyes." Another said: "He will never stand upright unless I bend his legs." A fifth said: "He will never learn to think unless I flatten his skull." "Stop," cried the traveler. "What God does is well done. Do not claim to know more than He. God has given organs to this frail creature; let them develop and grow strong by exercise, use, experience, and liberty."24

Ultimately, I would suggest that life is the standard to which the majority of humanity aspires. The value of an ethical system is proportional to its ability to encourage behavior that supports human life. Lawrence E. Harrison sums it up best: "Cultural relativism, which asserts that all cultures are essentially equal and eschews comparative value judgments, has been the conventional wisdom in academic circles for decades. Yet some cultures are progress-prone, while others are not. I believe that cultures that nurture human creative capacity and progress are better than those that don't. Some may be offended by this assertion, but it is, I believe, corroborated by the persistent flow of immigrants from cultures that suppress progress to those cultures that facilitate it."25

Individual Rights

The next system of ethical theory is based on the ideal of "Individual Rights." This system acknowledges that in reality, all that truly exists are individual human beings. Categorical groupings of people into races, nations and religions are quite arbitrary. We do not choose the skin color or sex of our bodies, nor do we choose the land mass on which we are born, or even the religious or national affiliation of our parents. For the first few years, we are simply busy being babies and young children. Only at a later time do we learn how our particular accident of birth defines what and who we are. Of course, as part of that introduction, we are informed that people who are like us are good, and therefore superior, and those who are not like us are bad, and therefore inferior.

Individual rights is often labeled as the "ethic of egoism." The Marquis de Sade took his egoism to the extreme when he declared something to the effect of "an individual ought to aim at a maximum balance of happiness for himself, and that, if necessary, he ought to be ready to sacrifice any amount of other men's happiness in order to produce the slightest nett increase in his own."26

Writers such as Ayn Rand are often accused of this form of egoism. Considering that she was extremely uncompromising in her approach to defending individual rights, those accusations should not come as a surprise. However, while she was a most adamant defender of individual rights, she also made a strong case for refraining from the use of force and fraud as means of satisfying one's economic needs or for accomplishing one's productive aspirations.27

Those who rail against individualism generally point to instances of exploitation done by citizens who are not official agents of the government. However, for some strange reason, a tyrant who exploits everyone in his domain escapes being labeled as an individualist.

Individualism has come to be defined two ways. One version describes individualism as a war of all against all, where the winner takes all. The other description of individualism asserts that people have a right to be left alone, and that they should extend the same courtesy to others. The first definition of individualism is used by advocates of collectivism while the second definition is most frequently used by those who define themselves as individualists. (Of course, there are notable exceptions such as The Marquis de Sade.)

People who ascribe to individualist ethics are often perceived as opportunistic and selfish&emdash;lacking any higher cause to sacrifice to. Actually, they do have a higher cause to sacrifice to&emdash;the ethic of non-coercion.

The ethical systems explored thus far generally advocate ideals such as "redistributive justice." Equality of outcome is more important under these systems than is the establishment of a level playing field. Individualists, on the other hand, insist that the interests of humanity as a whole are best served by keeping coercion in human relationships to a minimum. This ideal leads them to conclude that charity and contracts among people should be managed through voluntary association, not by government decree.

The individualist's insistence on keeping charity voluntary attracts volleys of criticism that accuses them of "social Darwinism." William Graham Sumner summed up the rebuttal well when he observed, "if we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest."28

Because individualists are willing to permit the demise of incompetent individuals who might fall through the net of voluntary charity, they are accused of cold-hearted cruelty. Individualists, on the other hand, remind us that the only other alternative is for people with political power to sacrifice otherwise viable and competent people at the alter of humanitarian concern. Once again, the journey to Utopia has claimed millions of lives in this century alone. ("How many people, in fact, have been killed by government violence in the 20th century? Not deaths in wars and civil wars among military combatants, but mass murder of civilians and innocent victims with either the approval or planning of governments&emdash;the intentional killings of their own subjects and citizens or people under their political control? The answer is: 169,198,000. If the deaths of military combatants are added to this figure, governments have killed 203,000,000 in the 20th century."29)

In short, the individualist ethic says it is better to compete in the arena of production than it is to compete in the arena of coercion.

When we acknowledge that individuals are all that truly exist on the planet and then insist on ethical prohibitions against force and fraud as a means of obtaining one's desired ends, we are in fact coming closer to a sustainable categorical imperative. In the last chapter we discussed the idea that wealth is created only during those times when people are not fighting one another, and it is produced most efficiently when people are free to use their energy and creativity in their own way. Ideally, each individual would, over the course of a lifetime, develop the ability to perform all four types of labor: physical, invention, management and capital. Although excesses can develop in the arena of production much the same as they develop in the arena of coercion, I must confess a preference for excesses in the arena of production. If someone is to have a spiritual crisis, I would rather he or she shower me with goods and services rather than with bombs and poison gas.

A Behavioral Analysis Approach&emdash;Voluntary Association vs. Coercion

Now we are ready to consider "Farm Boy" ethics. Because we live in human bodies, and our bodies must share planetary resources with other bodies, we have a good starting place for developing a fundamental understanding of ethics. What people do while hunting down goods and services (to keep their bodies alive and their minds entertained) is what we call behavior. Before the end of this chapter, it is my intention to demonstrate that the final goal of ethics (for most people) is to inspire people to behave in life-supporting ways, and that looking directly at our behavior and its results will give us a more objective framework for judgment and decision making. (For those who hold death as their standard of value, ethical behavior is that which facilitates the triumph of death.)

At this point, let me summarize the weaknesses of the common systems of ethical definition. Regarding Edicts from God, while I would not challenge the validity of anyone's "cosmological speculations" because my speculations would be no more valid than theirs, I look upon people who use God as a license to destroy and/or exploit other people with a healthy dose of skepticism. Sacrifice, if carried to its logical extreme, is suicidal and/or homicidal, and therefore not a useful guide for general conduct. The ideal of The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number sounds nice, but in itself, it gives us little guidance regarding how that ideal is to be achieved. Finally, the notion of Individual Rights bears closer scrutiny because there is no general agreement as to what such a concept means. For certain, the "egoistic hedonism" brand of individualism will create massive conflict and put us right back into the cave where we started from.

After examining these systems I conclude that a successful general system of ethics can be developed only from an approach which has at its center, behavior itself. I have no illusion of offering any final answers in this book, but if I can offer a useful system for reframing the debate, I will consider myself immensely successful.

Establishing a Standard of Value

First, we need to consider why ethics is an issue at all. Because there was little mention of Robinson Crusoe performing late night oratory on ethical theory, we might suspect that ethics becomes an issue only when there is more than one human being attempting to share limited resources. In other words, ethics prescribes the do's and don'ts for peoples' conduct in their social relations.30

This leads us to the next question&emdash;what is the goal of ethics? In the last paragraph, I mentioned survival as the value which we seek naturally. Because life is such a necessary value, if for no other reason than because death is the only alternative, it would make sense to establish life as the standard of value to be supported by ethical theory. Life, then, should be both the starting point for inquiry and the touchstone of success in application.

Relationship Types and Strategies

Thus far in this book, I have mentioned several times that there are only two types of transactions possible: voluntary and coercive. This leads us to a couple of questions. Which relationships should be voluntary and which relationships should be coercive? At what times and under which circumstances do voluntary relationships best support the cause of life, and at what times and under which circumstances does coercion best support the cause of life?

To prepare for exploring the world of relationships strategies, please consider Figure 3-1.

We are now ready to consider the different types of relationships with the idea that we will end up with a larger conceptual framework. In my experience, this framework has been invaluable for understanding relationship dynamics on all levels: personal, employment, and political.

Voluntary Relationships

Referring once again to the American Heritage Electronic Dictionary, voluntary means, "Acting on one's own initiative. . . . Acting or performed without external persuasion or compulsion." Another way of looking at what constitutes a voluntary relationship is, once again, if either party cannot agree, the transaction simply does not take place.

It is not as easy to understand voluntary relationships as a first impression might lead one to believe. Throughout history, many political and religious leaders have devised numerous euphemisms, with the result that today, "pious phrases and the fervent propaganda give to coercion a semblance of persuasion. . ."31 Even the dictionary fell prey to this propaganda when it lumped together persuasion and compulsion in its definition of "voluntary."

It is important to know the difference between coercion and persuasion. Sales and marketing people engage in external persuasion when they say, "before you make a final decision, consider these additional benefits." Conceivably, if the additional benefits presented make the deal more palatable, one might voluntarily trade whereas one would not before. The key difference between persuasion and coercion is that with persuasion, you have the freedom to say no when the talking stops.

A common out-growth of this confusion is found when people insist that as long as we willingly comply with the law it is only persuasion&emdash;law is coercion only for those who do not comply. While it is true the law is of little consequence if we can arrange our affairs so as to live within it comfortably, the threat is still there even if we don't feel it.

Metaphysical Slavery verses Man-made Slavery

At the root of the problem of distinguishing between coercion and voluntary association is the failure to distinguish between manmade slavery and metaphysical slavery. An example of this confusion is a story about a small country which was conquered by Rome. Rome decreed that if a soldier asked someone to carry his pack for a mile, that person was to comply without fail. The people in this little country were outraged, so the elders met together to deliberate on how they should respond. After considerable debate, the elders issued their conclusion: "When a soldier asks you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it two. For the first mile you are a slave, but for the second mile you are a free man." (Kind of like saying, "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.") Following the above advice might be useful if one is seeking physical exercise to prepare for a future battle for freedom. On the other hand, if you are already being taxed at a rate of 50%, giving the government your second 50% could offer a new type of freedom&emdash;freedom from eating.

If we were to change the story so it would encourage accepting our metaphysical slavery, it would be more useful to humanity. We have already accepted too much manmade slavery. Nature demands that we consume at least a minimum amount of food, and keep our bodies within a certain temperature range as the price of our survival. If we fail to meet these demands, for whatever reason, we die. Therefore, if it takes four hours of work a day to barely meet these demands, for our first four hours we are a metaphysical slave. Any work we do beyond those four hours in the pursuit of luxury (relatively speaking, of course) is our expression of metaphysical freedom. For the first four hours we are slaves, for the second four hours we are free.

Metaphysical slavery has never been popular. Consequently, many people have instituted, or have attempted to institute, manmade slavery. A sociologist named William Sumner offered this overview of human history. "All history is only one long story to this effect: Men have struggled for power over their fellow men in order that they might win the joys of earth at the expense of others, and might shift the burdens of life from their own shoulders upon those of others." For some, the prospect of confronting nature directly in the pursuit of survival is so horrifying that they will work hard to become the masters of coercion so they can force others to labor on their behalf. Others are content to use coercion in niggling little ways in order to make their work pay more at the expense of others.

In the following general overview of coercion strategies it is important to note that we are only considering the different forms of manmade slavery. (Metaphysical slavery has already been explored in the Introduction and in Chapter 2.)

The diagram on the previous page showed three types of coercion: force, fraud and guilt. Also, it showed two categories of each: offensive and defensive. In the following pages, we will explore each type and category in greater depth.

Coercion by Force

Force comes in two popular forms: physical force, and law&emdash;the threat of physical force. Because our existence is physical in nature, physical force is as basic as we can get when we want to motivate other people to do things our way.

Force can be used offensively or defensively. We can use force to gain from others without their voluntary cooperation, or we can use it simply to protect ourselves from the predators.

Offensive Force

Although all people are of the same species, for predators it is sufficient for another person to be "not-me." For them, inanimate matter, plants, animals and other humans are all fair game. Of course, this is nothing new. Conflict has been a large part of human experience "ever since the first non-producer enviously viewed the fruits of the labours of the first producer."32

The essence of offensive force is found in the intent of the person using it. That intent is to enjoy unearned gains at the expense of other people who would not make the exchange except under duress. Often the criminal likes to think that he is making an exchange, but to say "your money or your life" is only to offer the choice between a lesser loss and a greater loss.

Defensive Force

Whereas offensive force is used to acquire unearned gains at the expense of others, defensive force is used only for the purpose of protecting one's life and/or protecting one's possessions. (The stuff we use to sustain our lives.)

Some intellectuals would like us to believe the use of defensive force is just as evil as is the use of offensive force. This philosophy finds expression in much crime legislation which has the effect of disarming potential victims.33 Luckily, not everyone has been taken in. Many people tell me they will protect their lives and property first, then worry about the government later.

After the Los Angeles riots in 1992, there was much lamenting about the Korean business owners who tried to defend their businesses with guns. Once again the old slogan, "any life is worth more than any property," was chanted. On the face of it, this slogan sounds like a profound and caring statement. However, if we delve into its implicit assumptions, its underlying meaning can be disturbing.

Material bodies require the use of material resources if they are to survive. (We can use either the phrase "property ownership," or the phrase "resource control." While business people might prefer the term "property ownership," looters are content with "resource control.") Ultimately, the slogan, "any life is worth more than any property," translates to, "the life of any looter is worth more than the property that maintains the life of any non-looter." From here it is a simple step to surmise that if the life of any looter is worth more than the property that sustains the life of any non-looter, then the life of any looter is worth more than the life of any non-looter.

Of course, there is the argument that property can be replaced. (Such arguments generally leave out an important question&emdash;replaced by whom?) Apparently, the Koreans were not sold on that argument. They worked hard year after year, long hours every day, exchanging time (the stuff life is made up of) for property they believed would provide future security. Can all those years spent delaying gratification be replaced?

If, after considering these arguments, our pacifist friends still disapprove of the use of defensive force, the least they can do is tell our misguided Korean friends to stop working, relax, join the looters, and live off the fat of the land. (And enjoy a sense of moral superiority in the bargain! Working hard and saving for the future is not a rational strategy if one lives in a society that has elevated envy from an individual vice to a social virtue.)

Coercion by Fraud

The purpose of using fraud as a strategy is to mislead people into believing that if they behave in a certain manner, they can expect certain benefits in the future, only to discover too late that they had misplaced their trust. Once again, the dictionary helps us out by defining fraud as, "A deception deliberately practiced in order to secure unfair or unlawful gain." In this text we will stretch the notion of fraud a little further because along with seeking an unearned gain from another person, fraud can also be used to protect oneself from predators of both the private and the public kind.

Offensive Fraud

Examples of fraud are numerous enough to fill volumes. Both individuals and organized groups of individuals practice fraud on a routine basis. Fraud can consist of an outright misleading statement, or it can be masked in obtuse language. The main purpose of fraud is to make someone believe that if they behave in a certain way, certain benefits will accrue. If the fraud is successful, the other person will not figure it out until it is too late.

Fraud happens on all levels of human relationships. In personal relationships people misrepresent themselves and their intentions. Men sometimes feign interest in marriage in order to get sex, and women sometimes feign interest in romance in order to be wined and dined. In employment, both employers and prospective employees misrepresent themselves. According to Robert Half, "A resume is a balance sheet without any liabilities."34 On the other side of the issue, people have told me, "I have never worked for a company that was accurately represented by the owner or the manager during the interview, so why am I duty-bound to be so honest on my resume?"

Then there is the famous "big lie," which, according to Ernest Hemingway, "is more plausible than truth." When we want to run a big scam, it is useful if the victims do not have the means with which to verify our claims.

On the large scale, frauds are generally perpetrated with the help of vague words with contradictory meanings.35 Of course, once the scale of fraud gets large enough, those who perpetrate the fraud often become victims as well. (Fraud is most effective when the person promoting it believes the lie too.) One subtle giveaway that a large scale fraud is taking place is that laws must be in place to force compliance. "A sharp sword must always stand behind propaganda if it is to be really effective."36

This leads us to another complication, the ethical ramifications of unconscious lying verse conscious lying. People will generally agree that unconscious lying deserves human compassion from a moral standpoint because the liar is a victim too. Unfortunately, nature does not discriminate such fine points, and will administer consequences regardless.

An example of an unconscious large-scale fraud is the blind push for everyone in America to get a college degree. The promise that is being held out says that formal education is the primary key to advancement. Ivar Berg describes the pervasiveness of this American myth as follows: "Faithful adherence to tribal values requires that a discussion of education begin with the recognition that it is a good thing in and of itself."37

In recent years the fallacy of this myth is becoming apparent. The economy is not creating enough jobs to meet the heightened expectations of new graduates. This tends to increase the amount of discontent. Also, such a "tribal value" forgets that education is only one component of a larger investment-mix. If we only invested in education and did not invest in tools, the result would be more people using fancier words to describe how hard life is. (A friend who reviewed my manuscript commented that "students are suing for non-education and winning!")

Although fraud offers short term gains at the expense of others, there are long term consequences. On the individual level, a person who defrauds another teaches that person not to be trusting, which means that the fraudulent individual must always be looking for new suckers to replace those who have gotten wise. If this phenomenon expands to a large enough scale, the general "radius of trust" shrinks and social decline sets in. "Where trust and identification are scant, political polarization, confrontation, and autocratic government are likely to emerge."38

Defensive Fraud

Whereas defensive force is the best strategy to use against those with inferior offensive force, defensive fraud is the best for coping with superior offensive force. According to some people, we should be willing to suffer torture and death in a principled defense of our ideals, or we should meekly comply with the demands of those using offensive force.

Gandhi, for one, "felt that disobedience of the rules, though they may be evil, should be reserved for those occasions when one is prepared to die rather than obey."39 That sounds noble and chivalrous, but if the ideal of voluntary association is to prevail in the long-run, those who hold that ideal must have permission to mislead the practitioners of offensive force long enough to acquire sufficient means for an effective defense.

A famous example illustrating the dilemma inherent in the use of "defensive fraud" is the case of those courageous souls who hid Jews from the Nazis. Nazi soldiers would knock on the door and demand, "Do you have any Jews around here?" (Needless to say, those who lied were most likely to live to tell of the experience.)

The need to lie under these circumstances put many people in a quandary. They saw their choice as one of Thou shalt not kill verses Thou shalt not bear false witness. Unfortunately, these ethicists failed to note that the killing and the lying were being done by different people for different reasons. Because of this little oversight, the victims who were forced to choose between lying and dying were held morally culpable&emdash;possibly even more so than were the Nazis. This view put the victims in a double-bind, making them wrong regardless of which choice they made. Fortunately, there is a general consensus that suggests that lying is preferable to killing.

As was mentioned earlier in this chapter, the injustice of this double-bind led to the development of situation ethics. Situation ethics offered some relief from the above double-bind, and thereby lessened pangs of guilt among victims. However, it also implied that whether or not a particular behavior supports survival is simply a matter of opinion.

The Behavioral Analysis approach to ethics takes away the double-bind without sinking into the murky waters of ethical relativism. If someone more powerful than the victim threatens, the prospective victim is ethically justified in using defensive fraud in order to mislead the aggressor.

Another use of defensive fraud is that used against people who are masters of guilt&emdash;people who are easily offended and must be kept carefully. In the days when kings would kill the messengers that brought them bad news, those kings soon found themselves deluged with inaccurate information. This leads us to an important question: Do people who punish others for telling the truth deserve to know the truth? Today, such lies are often referred to as "white lies"&emdash;lies designed to spare both the messenger and the recipient unnecessary pain. This category also includes "the truth untold." In these instances, we need to ask ourselves, are we seeking an unearned gain by withholding the truth, or are we seeking to avoid being "beaten up" because of the extreme sensitivity (an excellent control strategy) of the other person? In this way we can know whether or not a "white lie" has a dark lining.

Coercion by Guilt

Of all the coercion strategies, guilt is the most subtle and elusive. Most people are aware on some level that guilt is both a blessing and a curse for society. However, very few people are able to articulate what guilt is, or able to tell when guilt is being a blessing or when it is being a curse.

The best place to start is with a definition of guilt. Referring, once again, to the American Heritage Electronic Dictionary, guilt is the "Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong." In other words, our actions have contradicted what we believed our actions should have been. Stated yet another way, "He who can live up to his ideal is the king of life; he who cannot live up to it is life's slave."40 When our behavior fails to match an ideal we have accepted, we experience internal "cognitive dissonance," a feeling better known as guilt.

In the world of computers we have what are known as application programs and operating programs. Application programs perform specific functions such as word processing, data base, spreadsheets, graphics and so on. Operating programs enable application programs to "talk" to the computer hardware.

In the world of coercion, force and fraud are equivalent to application programs, and guilt is equivalent to an operating program. Guilt, by its very nature, is a form of prohibition couched in terms of an ideal. Whether the ideal is consciously or unconsciously accepted is incidental. (From the standpoint of those using offensive guilt, if people accept an ideal unconsciously, so much the better.)

Some philosophical camps assume that guilt is automatically beneficial, while other camps are convinced that guilt in any form is detrimental to human happiness and well-being. As we shall see, the value of guilt, like any other type of coercion, is determined more by the agenda of the user than by the nature of the weapon itself.

Offensive Guilt

In recent years, a number of psychological/philosophical systems have arisen that virtually declare war on guilt. In fact, some of them have gone so far as to suggest that not even violence against others should be subject to censure. While that position is extreme, their feelings are not without some justification. On some level they are aware that the promotion of unrealistic ideals has given unscrupulous leaders a great deal of undeserved wealth and power.

One rebellious group is the Freedom From Religion Foundation. On one hand, they are quick to sue if a local politician shows up for a church service or function, which makes many people shake their heads in wonder. This hypersensitivity makes them seem as reactionary and intolerant as the forces they are fighting. Of course, this does not help augment their credibility. On the other hand, they have a point when they make this comment on their voice mail: "Remember. There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is called the Dark Ages."

Purveyors of guilt have also been blessed with a large cadre of helpmates&emdash;the victims themselves. Solzhenitsyn recounts the story of a labor union meeting in 1921, told by Arthur Ransome: "The representative of the opposition, U. Larin, explained to the workers that their trade union must be their defense against the administration, that they possessed rights which they had won and upon which no one else had any right to infringe. The workers, however, were completely indifferent, simply not comprehending whom they still needed to be defended against and why they still needed any rights. When the spokesman for the party line rebuked them for their laziness and for getting out of hand, and demanded sacrifices from them&emdash;overtime work without pay, reductions in food, military discipline in the factory administration&emdash;this aroused great elation and applause."41 Sacrifice was demanded and after the applause subsided, sacrifice was given&emdash;to the tune of 66 million people.42 Surprisingly, Solzhenitsyn then concluded, "We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward."43 (Two plus two does, after all, equal four.)

Offensive guilt is used effectively both by organizations and by individuals. What they have in common is the ability to sell people impossible ideals and/or to inspire them to try to hit moving targets.

On the interpersonal level, masters of the art of using guilt are people who are never satisfied. They have a knack of attracting people who, for whatever reason, like trying to do the impossible. I, personally, had the recurring problem of connecting with women who were impossible to please. Luckily, I linked up with one of the true masters of the art at the time when I was ready to crack the 5,000 year old con game.44 Her message to me was, "You're the most wonderful man I have ever met. However, everything about you needs to be changed." Because she was an intelligent woman who was superior to me in many respects, I tried to adopt her ideals. (I still defined myself as a failure, and therefore felt that I could only improve by learning from her example and instruction.)

In many cases, her criticism seemed reasonable, if for no other reason than I was unable to articulate the reasons for my discomfort. She made more money than I did, she was more educated, and she was definitely superior to me in the arena of logic and argumentation. However, as time progressed, I noticed that many of her ideals were actually moving targets. This helped me understand why I had to pay such a high price in self-esteem for her jewels of wisdom. On a couple of occasions I actually did measure up. However, when I leaned my back toward her (figuratively speaking), expecting a "pat on the back," she responded by raising her expectations. This left me both dismayed and confused.

When I left the relationship, I left deciding that I would rather be wrong my way than be right her way. I could not justify my leaving with any reasons that I could defend. It was only later that I figured out that her intention was not for me to live up to the ideal she presented. Instead, she expected me to fall short of her ideals so she could maintain her dominant position in our relationship.

Thanks to this experience, when I read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, Howard Roark's observation really spoke to me: "Man was forced to accept masochism as his ideal&emdash;under the threat that sadism was its only alternative. This was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on mankind."45 It then occurred to me that many authorities have the most potent weapon of all&emdash;ideals that say, "if you are still alive, you have fallen short." If you have fallen short of their ideals because you insist on living, you are expected to pay a never-ending ransom by filling collection plates and treasuries to the brim.

The essence of this "5,000 year-old con game," which has been around at least since the beginning of recorded history (approximately 5,600 years,) is to offer an ideal that no one can attain. In personal relationships such people have high expectations of others, and most likely they also offer moving targets for others to hit. When they fall short, as they are expected to do, they then act out their favorite negative emotion. Because most people like other people to be happy, those who are easily offended enjoy a lot of power. Although this strategy is probably unconscious, "Ninety-five percent of hurt feelings are strategy on the hurtee's part."46

Some years back, an 86-year-old man told me about a job he had in the 1930s. A man walked into the warehouse and demanded, "Who's the boss around here?" They quickly replied, "Whoever is the maddest." Being easily angered and easily offended seems to be a good strategy for gaining power in employment relationships as well as in personal relationships. It is almost an axiom in love-relationships that whoever has the most problems controls the relationship and that "The one who loves the least, controls the relationship."47

In the larger world of politics and religion, the same game prevails. Political and religious leaders have always offered up God or The State or The People or The Crown as entities of paramount importance to whom the individual human being must be sacrificed. Religion has been consistent in that it has done everything in its power to discredit the value of our existence in this life so it can sell us real estate in the next world. Politicians have consistently used "the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in government."48 With an endless string of economic problems within and enemies all about, we are supposed to sacrifice for the sake of our great-grandchildren. The degree of our ability to create a good life on this earth is also the extent of our guilt, and also the extent of our debt to those who, for whatever reason, lack that ability. ("From all according to their ability, to all according to their need.")

Another example of the offensive use of guilt is the notion that defensive force is as morally reprehensible as offensive force. These types of ideals morally disarm productive people, and give violent and non-productive people a free reign. (Once again, a moral system that fails to account for our need for physical survival and offers ideals based on some hypothetical other-world is offensive guilt/coercion by default, if not by design.)

Finally, in all fairness, it is useful to point out that most people who are promoting ideals that indirectly encourage the offensive use of coercion do not do so consciously. They suffer right along with their followers, much like a drug dealer who is his own best customer. In my early twenties, after I found out that I had been taught self-defeating ideals, I felt as though the authority figures in my life had made conscious and malevolent designs against me. However, it later became clear to me that they had suffered too. In most cases, they suffered even more than I did.

Defensive Guilt

Generally, most people will agree that life goes better when people limit themselves to voluntary trades with other people. Conversely, as our level of conflict escalates, our physical and emotional well-being decreases proportionately.

With this in mind, there is a valid use of guilt&emdash;defensive coercion. Defensive guilt is any ideal that discourages the offensive use of force, fraud and guilt and promotes the legitimacy of defensive force, fraud and guilt. This "operating program" would encourage the use of defensive force when available physical power is superior to those using offensive force, and the use of defensive fraud when available physical power is inferior. (It would also enable us to make better preparations for coping with each new crop of predators that comes with each new generation.) In short, this ideal supports individuals pursuing their own well-being as they best understand it, within the framework of creating positive value for voluntary exchange with others.

Summary of Behavior Analysis Ethics

Behavior Analysis Ethics focuses primarily on behavior and its consequences. Understanding people's motivation for behaving in certain ways is valuable from a psychological and philosophical vantage point, but it is a secondary consideration when the life-supporting value of behavior is being evaluated. It makes little difference whether one jumps off a cliff in a fit of anger or in the throes of ecstasy&emdash;the rocks below make landing uncomfortable either way.

Some ethicists tend to discriminate between the ethical and the legal (or illegal as the case may be). "While the ethical requires 'that virtue should be its own end and . . . its own reward,' the juridical requires only that individuals, in the permissible end which they set for themselves, should respect one another's freedom as rational beings. An individual cannot be ordered to act from a motive of duty, i.e., from a virtuous disposition, but he can be expected to act from a principle of 'reciprocal freedom' within the range of public life."49

From a behavior analysis viewpoint, such a distinction is not as important as people behaving in a life-supporting manner no matter how they feel. In fact, good outcomes created by people with "bad" motives are superior to bad outcomes created by people with "good" motives.

A philosophy that limits its ideal to defensive guilt does not demand the impossible. To be condemned for every stray thought that might course through the neurons of our brains, and to be judged more by an alleged selflessness than by the consequences of our actions is to guarantee the continuation of misery on this planet indefinitely.

Is Ethical Behavior Determined by the Actor or by the Action?

Another type of ethical confusion arises from the fact that the same behavior can be condoned for one person and condemned for another. Generally, people with political power enjoy greater freedom of action without being labeled "unethical." In fact, they are often praised for performing actions that are forbidden to the rest of the population.

This phenomenon is most common in matters of law. If a private citizen walks up and down the street with a gun raising funds for a charity, that person is apprehended and locked up. But if politicians pass a law (i.e., threatening people with the use of force) to raise funds for charity, they are celebrated as true humanitarians.

Law has been a very effective tool for mesmerizing people. In the 1840s, Frederick Bastiat observed, "There is in all of us a strong disposition to believe that anything lawful is also legitimate. This belief is so widespread that many persons have erroneously held that things are 'just' because law makes them so. Thus, in order to make plunder appear just and sacred to many consciences, it is only necessary for the law to decree and sanction it. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who profit from them but also among those who suffer from them."50

This tendency to esteem in political leaders what we abhor in private citizens speaks of an ethical system based more on the status of the actor than on the consequences of the action. Such a system not only baffles our minds regarding ethics, it also distracts us from charting the relationship between behavior and consequences. The promise that government theft and oppression will create peace and prosperity does not automatically make it so. In the words of the famous Mullah Nasrudin, "Isn't it all one to the poor flies how they are killed? By a kick of the hooves of horned devils, or by a stroke of the beautiful wings of divine angels?"51

Of course, if political leaders want their privileges to last, they also need the help of intellectuals who will create philosophies justifying the current order. Otherwise, today's leaders will soon be challenged by tomorrow's irate citizens because "a tyrant can only beat you with your own arms." For people to allow a tyrant the use of their own arms, they must first be morally disarmed by religious and/or secular philosophers.

The history of ethical and philosophical debate has been one long battle between those advocating the primacy of force and its pursuit of short-term goals, and those in favor of the primacy of reason through which they can consider the long-term effects of their actions. As was mentioned in the last paragraph, many intellectuals have become handmaidens of the primacy-of-force approach, very likely because political patrons reward intellectuals more handsomely than do the masses. (An example is B.F. Skinner winning a $285,000 grant to tell us how to go Beyond Freedom and Dignity.)

If we look around the world, we can see that governments in power are often little more than the gang which prevailed following a protracted gang war. Examples such as Somalia, Rwanda and the Balkans serve to make this point.

As for the rest of the world, these same ends are sought. Instead of direct violence, however, subtlety and craft are used. A wise gang/government will allow working people to keep enough of the results of their labor so they will work again tomorrow. (The best of all worlds for government is to rule over a people who will work twenty hours a day, and give 90% to the government. Of course, human nature does not work that way, so governments have a problem. In any case, Lenin's experiment to create the new sacrificial man failed remarkably. The honest, hard-working people died like the horse in Orwell's Animal Farm while the survivors became either politically adept or passively dependent.)

It is generally easier to discern the difference between voluntary relationships and coercive relationships among private citizens than between the same citizens and their government. It is common for people to assume that "it must be a just law merely because it is a law."52 People typically do not consider what the law accomplishes and then ask themselves whether or not they as private citizens could get away with the same action.

Frederick Bastiat offered us the following guide to help us know when the government is "accomplishing through law what can only be done otherwise through crime,"53 and suggested the results we can expect from such policies:

But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.
Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law&emdash;which may be an isolated case&emdash;is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.
The person who profits from this law will complain bitterly, defending his acquired rights. He will claim that the state is obligated to protect and encourage his particular industry; that this procedure enriches the state because the protected industry is thus able to spend more and to pay higher wages to the poor workingmen. Do not listen to this sophistry by vested interests. The acceptance of these arguments will build legal plunder into a whole system. In fact, this has already occurred. The present day delusion is an attempt to enrich everyone at the expense of everyone else; to make plunder universal under the pretense of organizing it.54

The Ethics verses Efficiency Debate

For centuries, an ongoing philosophical battle has raged over whether the goal of ethics should be to protect the individual's "right to life, liberty and the right to property," or to promote "the greatest good for the greatest number." What is interesting is that these goals have been assumed to be at odds with one another. These goals do not have to be the enemies of one another. While it is true that individuals are often crushed by officials promoting the greatest good for the greatest number, if individual rights were respected, the larger group would benefit as well. What is a group but a collection of individuals?

One problem that has clouded the issue is our historical inability to discern between inequalities that arise from differences in people's productive abilities, and those that arise due to the subtle injection of coercive elements into our relationships. Because of this, most debates about ethics don't even touch on this issue, and it appears that both "conservatives" and "liberals" are oblivious to the issue of coercion verses voluntary association. Consequently, most debates are limited to what kind and/or how much coercion should be used. Seldom is it asked whether coercion should be used at all.

The amount of peace and abundance that a culture enjoys is due in large part to the size of the "radius of trust" among the people in that culture. As people spend less time in conflict and more time in production, both individual and aggregate wealth increases.

Although a free society may not forcefully allocate wealth in the way advocates of coercive charity would approve of, the poor in less regulated societies are no worse off materially than they are in more regulated societies.55 In addition, they enjoy less intrusion by authorities in their daily lives.

The notion that we have to choose between ethics and efficiency is an artificial argument that ultimately serves the advocates of coercion. Limiting coercion in human relationships in favor of voluntary association is not only more ethical (from a life-enhancement perspective), it is more efficient as well.

Finding Common Ground:

Does This Problem Justify the Use of Coercion?

It is my belief that constructive dialog has to start from some kind of common language. If people start admitting that when they seek to pass a law, they are advocating the use of coercion to make others conform to their demands, we'll have a common starting place. Conservatives, when they seek to limit people's lifestyle choices, would do well to say, "We believe this issue is too important to leave to people's own judgment. Therefore, we advocate the use of coercion to make them respect our wisdom." Likewise, when liberals seek to limit people's economic choices, they would be more honest by saying, "We believe this issue is too important to leave to people's own judgment. Therefore, we advocate the use of coercion to make them respect our wisdom."

Before we can intelligently debate issues pertaining to personal and political relationships, we would be wise to know what we are talking about. Many issues are not easy to resolve. Nevertheless, if we can at least be honest enough to admit when we propose to use coercion to solve human problems, we can look at which kind of coercion we are proposing, and then consider whether such coercion is offensive or defensive in nature. Someday I would like to see a book such as The Complete Compendium of Coercion Strategies developed so we can have a comprehensive guide to relationship dynamics much the same way as we now have medical encyclopedias to aid us in understanding physical illness.

As I said in the beginning of this chapter, my intention is to start the debate, not end it. I hope that this chapter will start a new inquiry which will lead us toward more useful concepts for understanding human relationships.

A Relative Tribute to Ethical Relativism

What has been said so far is of value only if one believes ethical systems should support the cause of life. However, not everyone would agree. Therefore, in this age of ethical relativism and cultural relativism, it would be impolitic of me to make a firm stand on a single set of principles. Therefore, in the hope of broadening my audience, I will put in a plug for ethical relativism.

The best description of our situation, and possibly a good formulation of the ultimate morality as well, is encapsulated in a simple sentence: "You are free to do anything you want&emdash;all you have to do is pay the consequences." While nature gives us life, there is no firm mandate that says we must maintain it. Therefore, the choice to use our abilities to support the cause of life is optional.

The bottom line in ethical debate is the standard of value we seek to promote. In basic terms, we have two choices for a standard of value: life or death. To those for whom death is the standard of value, an ethical system that heightens the amount of conflict in human relations is rational. On the other hand, those who hold life as the standard of value will want to adopt an ethical system that minimizes conflict in human relationships. What is irrational is claiming to hold life as the standard of value while advocating increases in the amount of human conflict. (Unless, of course, such a deception is part of a larger strategy to promote death as the standard of value.)

In life, we have two arenas of competition: production and coercion. Ethical relativism says one is as good as the other. From the viewpoint of the grave that may be true. However, in this life each choice has a corresponding consequence. Our choices might be relative, but the consequences are not.

Now that we have had an overview of ethics, we are ready to take a look at economics, government, law and other subjects in direct, non-euphemized terms. This chapter on ethics had to be presented early in this book because our choice of whether we will fight or not will directly impact whether we will produce or not.


Samuel Johnson quoted in Bergan Evans (ed.), Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Avenel Books, 1978), p. 312.


Sufis are said to be a "spiritual freemasonry" that changes form over the centuries in order to keep their spiritual essence intact.


Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto (Pra Debvedi), A Buddhist Solution For the Twenty-first Century, (for 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., August 28 &emdash; September 4, 1993), p. 11.


G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson , Vol. 3 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1950), p. 276.


Give up? State + Idolatry = Statolatry.


Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), p. 435.




Immanuel Kant: Fundamental Principles of Morals, "The Categorical Imperative" Ch. I. Quoted in ed. Bergan Evans, Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Avenel Books, 1978), p. 90.


Quoted in Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallels (Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein & Day, 1982), p. 35.


Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982), p. 148.


Soren Kierkegaard quoted in William Augustus Banner, Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (New York: Scribner, 1968), p. 136.


Eric Hoffer, The True Believer (New York: Harper & Row, 1951), p. 23.


Susan Love Brown, et. al., The Incredible Bread Machine (San Diego, CA: World Research, Inc., 1974), p. 132.


Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., p. 56.


Susan Love Brown, et. al., The Incredible Bread Machine (San Diego, CA: World Research, Inc., 1974), p. 135.


C.D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1930), p. 132.


Jeremy Bentham quoted in William Augustus Banner, Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (New York: Scribner, 1968, p. 115.


John Stuart Mill quoted in Robert L. Heilbroner, Op. Cit., pp. 126-127.


Ibid., p. 127.


Shanti Swarup Gupta, The Economic Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (Delhi: Ashok Publishing House, 1968), pp. 47-48.


Leonard Peikoff, Op. Cit. ,p. 120.


Marcus G. Singer, "Ethics," The Academic American Encyclopedia, (New York: Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1993).




Frederick Bastiat, translation by Dean Russell, The Law (Irvington-On-Hudson: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1990), pp. 74-75.


Lawrence E. Harrison, Who Prospers?: How Cultural Values Shape Economic and Political Success (New York: BasicBooks, 1992), p. 16.


C.D. Broad, Op. Cit., p. 148.


Although Ayn Rand did not transcend the use of guilt as a weapon in her personal relations, she did us a great service by philosophically challenging philosophies that legitimize the use of force and fraud in economic relationships. Also, while she did not explicitly label guilt as a form of coercion, she did write some masterful passages indicating how guilt is used. For a fascinating account of Ayn Rand's personal relationships, consider reading Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand (Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1986).


William Graham Sumner quoted in V.T. Thayer, Formative Ideas in American Education (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1967), p. 135.


Richard M. Ebeling, "Book Review," R.J. Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1994), in Freedom Daily, October 1994, p. 40.


Ethics does have an inner dimension as well. Personal integrity is vital to the health and integration of our psyche. (It is useful for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing.) This issue will be addressed in Chapter 9.


Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., pp. 136-37.


Susan Brown, et. al., Op. Cit., p. 139.


Not all gun control skeptics are so generous. Some suggest that it is the intent of gun control proponents to make citizens helpless against despotic government. In Colorado, for instance, the state senator who is most active in promoting gun control is also identified by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers as the legislator most hostile to taxpayers. This may be strictly coincidence, but it does make one wonder.


Robert Half, Robert Half on Hiring, 1985, ch. 4., Quoted in Michael C. Thomsett, A Treasury of Business Quotations (New York: Ballantine Books, 1990), p. 9.


Examples of convoluted and contradictory meanings are found in chapters 1 and 5. The subjects of love and government are two areas where euphemisms abound.


Dr. Goebbels quoted in Eric Hoffer, Op. Cit., pp. 98-99.


Ivar Berg, Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970), p. 19.


Lawrence E. Harrison, Op. Cit., p. 11.


Shanti Swarup Gupta, Op. Cit., p. 157.


Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Complete Sayings of Hazrat Inayat Khan (New Lebanon, NY: Sufi Order Publications, 1978), p. 233.


Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Op. Cit., p. 13.


Ibid., p. 10.


Ibid., p. 13.


Religious and political leaders have, for at least five thousand years, promoted sacrifice to "God," "the state," "the people." etc. as the highest virtue, and they have always been the beneficiaries of those sacrifices, gaining large amounts of power and prestige, thanks to the hard work and suffering of the masses.


Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (Indianapolis IN: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1943), p. 683.


Dr. Wayne Dyer, Pulling Your Own Strings (New York: T.Y. Crowell Co., 1978), p. 10.


F.J. Shark, How To Be The JERK Women Love : Social Success for Men and Women in the '90's (Chicago, IL: Thunder World Promotions, Inc., 1994), p. 57.


James Madison quoted in Susan Love Brown, et. al., Op. Cit., p. 57.


William Augustus Banner, Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (New York: Scribner, 1968), p. 108.


Frederick Bastiat, translation by Dean Russell, Op. Cit., p.13


G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson , Vol. 3 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1950), p. 276. (Mullah Nasrudin, sometimes spelled Mullah Nassr Eddin, is a popular figure in Sufi literature. It is not certain that such a man actually existed, but he has become the mythical embodiment of subtle wisdom. He is sometimes portrayed as the wise man and at other times he is portrayed as the fool. At all times, these stories offer a unique way of looking at things.)


Frederick Bastiat, translation by Dean Russell, Op. Cit., p.14.


Snidely Slickster, Chairman of the Authoritarian Party, 1992 Presidential Campaign Flyer.


Frederick Bastiat, translation by Dean Russell, Op. Cit., p. 21.


Gerald W. Skully, Constitutional Environments and Economic Growth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 168.

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