Saturday, March 12, 2011

Induction of “the Initiation of Physical Force is Evil”

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Having gone through the reduction, it’s time to induce the Objectivist principle that “the initiation of physical force is evil.”

The induction will consist of three steps:

1. Directly observing physical force negating desires.

2. Once the source of desires is grasped, observe force negating specific conclusions.

3. Observe force negating the mind as such by halting the processes of thought and integration, paralyzing the mind.

Force Opposes Your Desires (Values)

The first examples of force we might confront are the broken promises of our parents, or physical force exerted by bullies or other kids at school.

Whatever the precise nature of the force being used, the induction we want to reach is that force, whether direct or indirect (like a broken promise from a parent), makes you do that which you don’t want to do. In proportion to the use of force against me, I can’t possess or do or acquire or maintain what I want, what I desire, what I value.

How does someone figure out that this is wrong? You would need to know that something else is good, which would set the context for determining what is wrong. Specifically, you would need to recognize in some basic form that egoism is right—you would have needed to induce the principle that “X, Y, and Z are my values, mine to choose and mine to enjoy/benefit from.” It’s good for me to choose the values that I want and to enjoy them for my sake. Once that is induced, you could later realize that “it’s wrong for someone to treat my values or me as a means of someone or something else.”

After reaching the framework of a preliminary induction of egoism, you’d reach this induction along the way, that force is opposed to your selfish values, your desires.

Peikoff speculates that Rand knew this by the age of six, because it isn’t too difficult to understand. “Force vs. desires” is pretty clear for most people. But the problem, like that in inducing “egoism” is that they hardly ever get past a preliminary stage like this one. Instead, they conflate and combine a set of unrelated topics and it turns into, “what I want vs. that.” “That” means a host of things blended together, things like “initiation of force,” “the laws of reality,” and things that are the property or business of other people. So many people think that what opposes their values are the cases of a bully (force), the laws of thermodynamics (reality, like someone upset about not being able to smoke near a gas station or in a highly oxygenated area), and the cases of the innocent who refuse to give you what you want, but the object of your desire is properly theirs to give or not. If this were a legitimate concept or idea, then we would have reached the limit of this induction, because we would eventually have “I can do anything, whenever I want, no matter what, and to the extent that I can’t, I’m under 'force.'” That would mean that life itself involves force, and thus that the concept is useless, and this topic becomes no longer worthy of discussion.

We’ve all met people like this, who dismiss the issue of force in the way that Objectivists understand it. Here’s an excellent example from a forum:
[Original poster] […]Power is often thought of, in the political sense, as having control over other humans. Freedom is often thought of, in the political sense, as a state of being in which one is not controlled by other humans.

[One respondent says] Nobody is entirely free from the control or influence of others for any length of time. For brief periods, possibly- is this not why people rock climb or ride fast morbikes (sic, the commenter means “motorbikes”)?
Ultimately the only permanent way to reject the control or influence of others is suicide, even if you are rich and powerful. But that's a zero sum game of a sort, too.
[The original poster replies] […] I suppose I can also agree that no absolute political freedom exists, yet if we are all seeking political freedom, then it seems self-evident that we should seek to obtain as much as we can, other things being equal.
[“Discussion of Power and Freedom,” posts # 1, 3, and 6 ]
“There’s no such thing as absolute freedom”; “No one can really do whatever they want”; “Society limits our freedoms and rights,” etc. Such people are incapable of splitting up these different sources of that which prevents their ability to act on their desires.

(Ayn Rand had a few words to say on this point. I’ll quote a few, and then move on:
Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state—and nothing else.
(From “Conservatism: An Obituary”)

Foggy metaphors, sloppy images, unfocused poetry, and equivocations—such as “A hungry man is not free”—do not alter the fact that only political power is the power of physical coercion.
(“America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business”)

Do not be misled . . . by an old collectivist trick which goes like this: there is no absolute freedom anyway, since you are not free to murder; society limits your freedom when it does not permit you to kill; therefore, society holds the right to limit your freedom in any manner it sees fit; therefore, drop the delusion of freedom—freedom is whatever society decides it is.

It is not society, nor any social right, that forbids you to kill—but the inalienable individual right of another man to live. This is not a “compromise” between two rights—but a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is not derived from an edict of society—but from your own inalienable individual right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society—but is implicit in the definition of your own right.

Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom is absolute. (“Textbook of Americanism”) )
By contrast, we’ll break up this heterogeneous understanding into three different, independent factors, each with their own examples:

1. Reality as such is not a producer of force: it’s the setting and context of all volitional action. Force is a special type of reality, which only pertains to people; not even animals are forcers: if a bird or a cat attacks you, then it’s like the laws governing combustion in that our topic revolves around morality, which only appertains to people.

2. A negating of your desires by others, in and of itself, is not force. People live their own lives and have their own possessions, so if they don’t want to give you something that you want then that isn’t force. This is where it’s important to remember that egoism is a principle which applies to all people, a principle reached by induction. It’s good for other people to pursue their own values and happiness too, and just because their desires or yours may be illegitimate or clash, doesn’t mean that they’re initiating force against you. There’s a difference between their refusing to comply with your desires when it’s their prerogative to make a decision about it, which isn’t force (even if they’re “in the wrong”), and those people using force to negate your desire, like physical violence. The difference comes down to: “we detest you (whether rightly or wrongly), so we won’t let you have X,” as against, “we hate you, so we’re going to dump you in the river with cement shoes”; this latter case is force.

3. This is a point that a child has to figure out. Parents of children are a special case, because they can initiate physical force against their children—this is an exception to the principle that “the initiation of physical force is evil,” because philosophy pertains to adults. As opposed to adults, there are separate rules for the transition from birth in which the child is building up his rational faculty, and the parents have a moral responsibility to raise the child, including the times when it’s necessary to punish the child against his will. Giving a kid “time-out,” for instance, isn’t voluntary for the child, and it isn’t retaliatory force necessarily: he might be cranky or reckless, etc. Children have to reach this point before they can understand the issue of “force” due to their being under their parent’s jurisdiction, such that they have to realize that a parent forcing them to do something is different from other kids or strangers forcing them to do something. And even within this framework, they have to make the distinction between firm, strict parents and criminal parents. Eventually, they’ll come to distinguish between parental privileges as opposed to some bully pushing them around without any right.

Independently grasping these three will provide the means for you to move above simply “force vs. my desire,” with its confused meaning that anything that frustrates your desires is force. Reaching these distinctions will allow you to come to Ayn Rand’s view of “the initiation of physical force against the innocent.” This view is made within the context or framework of human behavior, contrasting “justified force by adults (i.e. retaliatory force),” and “unjustified force (i.e. initiatory force) by criminals, government officials, etc.”

As a sort of preliminary induction, we can say from the above that the initiation of physical force is evil because it negates and destroys a victim’s selfish values and their fulfillment, any victim’s values.

Force Negates and Discards Specific Conclusions of Your Mind

To understand this point, we’d have to realize that the desires we have and the values we choose have their source in conclusions we’ve previously reached. Having taken notice of force, and making the connection, one could further generalize and claim that force not only negates the desire or value in question, but also the thinking that one had to engage in to value or desire it. It’s a big step cognitively, and can only be reached by induction. Another induction we’d reach as an extension of the prior one is that all values above the automatic level of consciousness are products of the ideas that we hold.

We don’t necessarily have to reach a full knowledge of this principle to know it’s relation to force, because some people have a better or poorer understanding of the relationship between thought to values. We’d have to at least know that values originate from something, whether it’s the effects of different objects, the alternatives available to us whenever we choose, or knowledge about the means needed to achieve a certain value. The guiding principle to keep in mind is that we had to raise certain questions or concerns, make a firm decision about it and choose a value or goal, and an agent of force confronts you and says, “I don’t care what you want, give it to me!” The forcer isn’t merely against what you want, but specifically he’s against whatever you had to think in order to want it.

Even here, you don’t need a theoretical grasp of the relation between thought and emotion, as this level of understanding can be reached based on common-sense observation, simply perceptual data without extrapolating to the broader principle that “all emotions and desires come from thinking.” The best examples here can be taken from introspection. The more casual you’ve decided that someone is a value to you, the less apparent it will be that your thoughts and conclusions were connected with the thing becoming valuable to you. Extreme cases would be people blindly following impulses or what some “value authority” (e.g. a fashion magazine columnist, “the Jones’,” a movie critic) tells them to desire—these kind of people probably won’t be able to determine why they chose the way they did.

A person like Ayn Rand would easily understand that force opposes her conclusions; someone who normally doesn’t pay attention to what it is that conclusions impact or influence wouldn’t reach this idea until a long time later, and might need someone to point it out for him.

Here’s an example. Picking a mattress: you consider its thread count (the higher the count, the smoother the mattress feels), its color, cost, composite material, and other features. A rival mattress manufacturer says, “take our mattress instead, or else!” The rival is not simply making you go against your values in this case, but also the totality of conclusions you already reached regarding it, and as a result, you’ll be furious or upset with him. Effectively, the manufacturer has invaded your mind, saying in respect to this value of yours, “these considerations and concerns of yours are expendable and pointless, toss them aside.”

Contrast that with: You amble along absent-mindedly, pick out the first mattress you see, and that same rival pulls you along to his mattress and says, “here, take this one, and hurry up because we have a lot of customers.” You shrug, and simply buy it. That kind of person won’t have any reason for what he does, and he won’t be upset or angry whenever his reasons are being negated by someone else, because his “reasons” simply don’t exist. He would have an incredibly challenging time reaching the induction that thoughts, conclusions, and knowledge lead to desires, values and emotions.

So from these kinds of examples, we can induce that “force negates your conclusions and knowledge,” the force makes your knowledge and thought useless in relation to it. This is the meaning behind Rand’s statement in Atlas Shrugged that, “to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight.” We’d have to connect that with the point that force is opposed to eyesight as such. Say that you wanted to walk home, but a forcer says, “discard your eyes, what you see is beside the point, you’ll walk wherever I want you to walk.” If you see the point clearly, that what you see allows you to walk to a destination, then you can later reach the point that force attacks the eyes as such. (Or any sense organ. Take taste for instance, “I don’t care how bad it tastes, eat it or you’ll regret it!”) But if you just thought, “I want to walk there,” then you won’t connect it to the point that force is an attack on your eyes as such, and you won’t reach the ultimate conclusion we’re approaching.

Certainly, force eliminates the incentive or motivation to think, but the Objectivist point here is that force negates your action and thought, and your motivation is beside-the-point because force simply bypasses it. Ayn Rand put the point this way in Atlas Shrugged, “When you force a man to act against his own choice and judgment, it's his thinking that you want him to suspend.”

Force Assaults the Faculty of Thought as Such, Stopping and Paralyzing Thoughts about Everything

For this final induction, we have to induce a relation between physical force and mental paralysis, and this can be done by actually observing the paralysis and bring in the knowledge we have about the mind, using it to analyze and explain the paralysis.

Some preliminary things need to be said about paralysis. It is not unique to force: all bad ideas (and even true ones in an unfortunate context, like the news of a dying friend) lead to paralysis of some sort—force simply bypasses the victim’s choice and leads to paralysis directly. Fundamentally, force leads to mental paralysis, not inexorably physical paralysis, although that can be a consequence.

A false theory of ethics will paralyze you if you try to be consistent. If you’re a utilitarian, and you act to serve the greatest good for the greatest number, tossing aside all of your previous values, how would you know how to function? That theory purportedly has a “utilitarian calculus” designed to allow you to know what to do, but how do you know that using it will actually serve the goal you’re working for? Should you be a “rule utilitarian” like John S. Mill, or an “act utilitarian” like Bentham? You might try to alleviate your problems by listening to and accepting what others instruct you to do, but how does the “calculus” allow you to make a decision as to who to listen to? Should it be the person with the loudest voice, or the voice that expresses the most erudite sentences, or just whoever tells you to do whatever? Will you become pragmatic and just try a version of utilitarianism to see how it works? Or will you just break down dejectedly and do nothing?

It doesn’t matter pointing out that the utilitarian has free will, because he’s put blocks in his own mind that work against his ability to operate properly. Free will doesn’t make someone omnipotent—the mind has certain requirements for properly functioning, and when you fill it with material which is in opposition to its ability to carry out action, then it’s pointless to say: “well, why don’t you just use free will?”

A second example: the arbitrary cannot be proved or refuted—you just become stuck. Like Jesus Christ’s alleged supernatural ability to walk on water. There’s no way to prove it, and there’s nothing to think about regarding it. The mind just simply ceases to function in regard to that issue.

These were two cases where the paralysis is the victim’s fault, because he accepted the immobilizing agent of his own choice, and he can terminate the paralysis by abolishing that item of his mind. Such is not the case with physical force. Force used against you is carried out by someone else, so the consequent paralysis is not your fault, but that’s also the lethal aspect of force: you can’t just get rid of the paralyzing agent like the other cases above. It’s the one and only way that another person can shut off your reason and mind, halting you mentally, which is not caused by your own mistakes, conclusions, or your despair.

Here we could draw a genus of paralysis:

Paralysis is against life. Life involves action, and the cessation or prevention of action is against life.

1. Paralysis of the body—polio, spinal injury, etc.

2. Paralysis of the mind
Self-caused paralysis vs. externally caused paralysis
Examples of self-caused paralysis: false moral codes, extreme depression, impossible goal that has to be achieved somehow, accepting the arbitrary, etc.
Examples of externally caused paralysis: leaving aside some mind-crippling disease or virus, there’s only physical force.

(This isn’t the basic distinction of this induction, because things like polio and arbitrary ideas aren’t the first things that are distinguished from force when one induces. The basic one is “force vs. persuasion”: Human interactions have consequences on the mind. This branches off into: interactions in which respect is given for the autonomy of the person (the method of persuasion), versus the interactions which negate or destroy the autonomy of the person (the method of force). But this isn’t helpful for noticing the specific evil of force, because it prevents us from paying attention to that fact that force paralyzes your mind, with no chance for you to remove the paralyzing agent just by rethinking something alone.)

To reach this induction, you would have to observe the paralysis that force produces in its victims. To properly observe this, it would do us well to use a method of induction first introduced by Francis Bacon, and then later incorporated into the “induction” theories of the famous astronomer John Herschel and Utilitarian/logician John S. Mill: what Mill termed the method of “concomitant variations.” In this method, one element increases or expands, and when it does, another element increases as well, and they are related as cause to its effect: the more gas you blow into a balloon, for instance, the bigger the balloon swells, with all over relevant factors being equal. In the case of force and thought, however, this relationship in inversed: as the amount of force increases, the amount of thinking the victim does decreases. If force is restricted to a certain subject (like the mattress example), then the amount of thinking you do will be paralyzed only in that area. But soon it becomes the same general pattern as a bully initially taking your lunch money and then moving on to your coat, watch etc., and finally bullying you whenever he gets a chance, constantly using force against you. At first, you only experience force in this one area, but eventually, you observe that the force, and the resulting mental paralysis, keeps expanding and becoming worse. If the forcer isn’t stopped completely, then the force grows, and the amount of paralysis grows along with it, and if the force becomes total, such as in relentless torture, then so does the mental paralysis.

It’s a matter of degrees. The point isn’t that every act of force totally negates and paralyzes the person’s ability to think. The issue is that a given act of force on an innocent man will inexorably lead to, if left unopposed, total, unmitigated paralysis for all the victims involved eventually (which could take a long time, even generations) and this all works gradually. You can’t shut off the mind without using total force, and restricting the force only restricts the paralysis on the victim’s mind, but this restriction is only operative for a definite amount of time, until staying on this course finally leads the victim to total force and total paralysis.

A relationship example: A woman is feeling unhappy with staying at home, and comes to the conclusion that she needs a new job. She thinks about herself and previous jobs she’s had, and concludes that she’d make a good secretary for a business, or a public relations representative. When she tells her boyfriend about what she wants to do, he reacts violently and hits her several times, because he wants her to stay at home and sees her as somehow rebelling against him. As is, this is now a problem outside of the woman’s mind’s ability to deal with. The boyfriend’s use of force isn’t an ordinary new fact of reality, that could still be integrated with everything else, and that could lead her to some non-contradictory plan to get around it and thereby achieve her goal. His fists are no different from guns in this respect, because they simply negate whatever she’s thought about and decided. In this early stage of wife-beating, she’s still capable of an enormous range of thought—she could think about how to morally reform him, how to obey him and avoid being hurt any further, how to leave him and find someone else, how to charge him with assault and battery, or even how to take the law into her own hands. But to the extent that she thinks about the options she initially started with, namely to apply to be either a business secretary or a PR representative, she’ll simply be paralyzed. She’s still motivated to act, but she’s been stripped of the means required to actually think about her initial job concerns. She needs to observe the facts, including facts about herself, use logic, connect mental items, but in this job issue her boyfriend’s telling her, “don’t do that, because my (brutally-enforced) wants must have priority over your mind’s connection with the facts.” This is the standard case of force-induced paralysis: On one side, there’s, “I must think about this item because that’s the reality,” and on the other, “I can’t think about this, because the gun will go off, the fists will fly, etc.” And when you’re confronted with “I must” versus “I can’t,” you give up the “I must,” because there’s nothing you can do about the “I can’t.”

The mind is an organ of cognition, it integrates and connects things and that is its function. Force interferes with this, making it necessary for the mind to ignore crucial knowledge, work hard not to connect mental items, accept revelations (like those of a gun-wielder) in the process of thinking, etc. In regard to things like this, it doesn’t matter if the person has free will or not, because these sorts of things cannot be done to the mind with impunity. It’s important to recognize how force makes thinking about some issue literally impossible, because you’re no longer a sovereign thinker on the issue that the force is negating, and to think about it will simply mean that you’re evading your knowledge about the force.

Consider if the girlfriend ingeniously thinks of a third way, to work while at home, thus satisfying her need for purpose while seemingly complying with her boyfriend’s orders. Even so, she still, metaphorically, had to surgically remove and discard her earlier mental contents about the secretary and PR rep. positions. Some time passes, and the boyfriend finally decides that he doesn’t want her working at home, and beats on her some more, and eventually, he decides that he doesn’t want her to have a job at all, even if that’s how she can become happy, all the while still beating on her. Now, without addressing her abusive boyfriend in one way or another, she cannot think of how to work to become happy, because her ability to act on her decisions on this has been beaten out of her, literally. So, the issue isn’t the lack of motivation or of free will, but epistemological impossibility. The logical conclusion is his sadistically controlling all of her decisions, hitting her for any perceived wrong, work-related or not, and then eventually hurting her for no reason at all, with her fearfully submitting until he goes too far one day and kills her. What starts off as circumscribed force and the resulting paralysis in a circumscribed area or issue, becomes a progressive development leading to the total use of force and the total paralysis and suppression of thought.

This is what Ayn Rand meant in Atlas Shrugged, when the hero John Galt says, “Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man's capacity to live.” From the inductions we’ve been covering until now, we’ve seen the role of reason in human life: we know that we need mental integration, thought, abstraction, concepts, objectivity, production, etc. Reason is our means of survival, but force bypasses it and opposes it. It negates and paralyzes our reason and makes us act in contradiction to what we know and value and desire. Rand elaborates on the effect of force on reason, while also describing the metaphysical position it puts its victim in:
Reality demands of man that he act for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he act against it. Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment; you threaten him with death if he does. (
Force puts the victim in a position where he has to disintegrate and evade his own knowledge, defy the facts about himself and reality, and follow the orders of the forcer to avoid either himself or his values becoming damaged or destroyed. Peikoff put the point this way in Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, “When reality is decreed, at gunpoint, to be out of bounds, a rational mind has no way to proceed.” (p. 312)

Now, we’ve reached the conclusion. The “initiation of physical force” is evil because it goes against the victim’s desires, the specific conclusions of his reason, and it negates and paralyzes the mind, suppressing the faculty of reason and leaving him helpless to deal with reality.

[Next post: "Induction and Reduction of 'Sex is Metaphysical'"]

1 comment:

  1. This is good, but isn't this only half of the induction? You have established the premise that "I should oppose the initiation of force by others against myself." But you haven't really established that "I should not initiate force against others." Why should I not strive to dominate others through force to "get them before they get me?"

    The fact that the initiation of force is evil means that it is damaging to BOTH the victim AND the perpetrator. It's not enough to appeal to consistency, because I, as the agent, do have a special status in moral decisions. So, to complete the (adult) induction, you have to show how initiating force against others subverts the perpetrator's ability to live.

    This would show that the initiation of force is utterly evil, rather than an "alternative lifestyle" that you can indulge in, but in which you try not to be on the unfortunate end.

    By the way, I have linked to your blog from mine, and I submit my philosophical blog for your consideration: Objectivism for Deep Thinkers