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The Rationality of Freedom Relative to Ethics, Hermeneutic Binding, and the Correlation Between Diversity and Systemization
Combing "The Tragic Tradeoff Between Ideological Negotiation and Systemic Programming" and "On Kafka, Character, and Law."
Photo by Mikael Kristenson
We’ve recently been discussing the debate between Game B and Dark Renaissance, and have favored stressing, as discussed by Dr. Cadell Last, a need for “Game A/B” thinking. The paper “The Tragic Tradeoff Between Ideological Negotiation and Systemic Programming” connects systemizing with programing and ideology with negotiation, while in The Fate of Beauty we have suggested that “more law and less freedom” becomes rational the more people use their freedom for immoral ends. In this work, we will combine these two lines of thought.
For more on the discussion between Game B and Dark Renaissance, the following might be of interest, and I warn that the following paper might not make a lot of sense unless you read these first:
These sections from “On Kafka, Character, and Law” generally highlight the connection between ethics, rationality, and freedom:
Imagine that we leave $20 on a table in a restaurant and go to the bathroom; when we come back, the $20 hasn’t been touched. In this situation, the morality or character of those nearby allows us to “freely” leave our money in the open without worry. In this circumstance, it’s irrational to worry about our “neighbors,” per se. We’re free, and it’s rational for us to act like we’re free.
Now imagine we returned from the bathroom and found our $20 missing. In this case, we would no longer feel “free” to leave our money out in the open, and in fact, might demand for security cameras to be installed in the restaurant so that future thieves couldn’t get away with the crime. The immorality or character of those around us would “take away” our “feeling of being free” and even motive us to impede upon the privacy of ourselves and others in the restaurant. We may even demand restaurant managers to stand at the door and count the amount of money people enter the establishment with (and then the amount they have minus their costs and tip) to see if anyone is leaving with money that isn’t theirs. Because of an act of immorality, we now desire an infringement upon liberty to assume “an immoral act” doesn’t happen again. Where there is “morality,” however, we don’t desire or even think to infringe upon liberty at all.
The paper will then expand on the connection between freedom, rationality, and immorality, suggesting that culture and character play a big role in maintaining “the desirability of freedom.” Where morality wanes, freedom will become less rational while law becomes more rational. To visualize the relationship, we could depict:
In “The Tragic Tradeoff Between Ideological Negotiation and Systemic Programming,” we noted how “greater scale” corresponds with a need to move from “ideology and negotiation” to “systematizing and programming.” In other words, the larger a system is, the more it will not “work efficiently” without a “formal system” which coordinates agents, mitigates decisions, effectively communicates relevant information, and so on (say through “the pricing mechanism” according to Hayek). A family, for example, doesn’t need an official and rigid system, because family members can simply talk with one another and negotiate what they are going to do. At the family level, operations can be more organic and flexible, but the tradeoff is that we must deal with people, all their emotions, personalities, and the like (“pathos,” as the Dark Renaissance puts it). The visual which the paper offers is the following:
The following sections from the paper on “ideological negotiation and systemic programing” also highlight “the tragic tradeoff” we must navigate:
The smaller the scale, the more the society can operate efficiently with just ideology and negotiation, and the more it will be “human.” People will know one another; people will engage “face to face”; people will have names versus be numbers […]
The more a society scales, the more it will need and require a “system” to hold together, simply because the social order will incorporate more people who don’t believe in the system, who actively oppose it, and the like. Everyone in the society will likely not share the ideology of everyone else, and it will not be possible for the social order to hold together via “negotiation.” That will require more systemizing and a more intentional “design” of how economics and social activities manifest, say according to Capitalism, Socialism, or something we are yet to consider. On a small enough of a scale, people might not even need money: a very basic and informal barter system could work. Thus, the need for a “formal system” is relative to the size of the society […]
A “system” does not need people to get along, “develop,” or share in similar ideologies: all a system needs is the right programming (like a robot). For a society to scale, it must be increasingly systemized, and not all systems are equally effective: history is full of many systems which have failed […]
But now we must begin to acknowledge the trouble with Game A, and why Game B is justified (I think at least) to be discussing the problems with it. The benefit of “systems” is that they are not contingent on the human element to work, but the danger of systems is precisely that they are not contingent on the human element to work. It is similar to the current debate and concern with A.I., the Singularity, and so on: once we program a system to do x, it will do x, even if we beg it to stop. If we tell a self-driving car to “take us to the airport,” it might drive through a neighbor’s yard and race there at a hundred miles per hour: when we command a robot to do something or “program a system,” we might not think of all the “clarifications” we should include with our initial statement. As a result, we might end up with a lot of “unintentional consequences,” some of which might prove dangerous and fatal.
Where there is “scale,” there is a greater need for a system, but systems work without us, which means that systems don’t need us—it is possible for the system to turn on us and there be no way to stop it. The system is not ideologically dependent, which makes it scalable, but that also means it is “less human” and difficult to correct if something goes wrong.
Considering these macro-points between the two papers, we must ask: Does greater scale mean that less people will use their freedom well? Does increased scale correlate with increased immorality and thus an increased rationality against freedom?
The greater the scale, the higher the likelihood of interpretational differences on what constitutes “the good,” and thus hermeneutical variations which cause freedom to become irrational to Group A while it becomes increasingly rational to Group B (for example). Then, what Group C does is immoral and irrational to both A and B, both of which then vote for the State to do something about C. And so the State grows in terms of law, which requires enforcement, so the system grows too…
To keep a society which is organized primarily by negotiation and ideology from being systemized and organized by law and programming, the society will have to maintain a feeling of generally being ethical. If the society feels unethical, then it will become rational to introduce more systemization, which will reduce “the human element,” hindering freedom and reducing flexibility.
The rest of this paper will focus on Point 1, but Point 2 suggests that the ethics of a more ideological society are critical to keep that society from being systemized. No, no society is “just” ideological or “just” systemized, and all of them fall somewhere along “the arrow” depicted above. To make some random examples that don’t necessarily have anything to do with reality:
This “arrow” is general and meant to accomplish nothing more than make a point (I will not attest to its accuracy)—my hope is only to help stress that societies are not “either” systems or ideologies. Every society is a mixture, so the points of this paper will suggest the nature of “the movement” on this arrow. That in mind, let us proceed.
The smaller the society, the greater the likelihood that there are “hermeneutical similarities” and “overlap” between members of the society. No, not everyone will see and think exactly the same way, but it is more likely that people will “generally” interpret the world similarly (bound by similar “suchness,” as can be associated with David Hume). This commonality “brackets” to the degree people will disagree on what constitutes moral and immoral action, and following the arguments in the paper on Kafka, that means there will be “brackets” on how undesirable and irrational freedom will become unintentionally and/or via “misunderstanding.” This is crucial: where everyone shares commonality and a similar “moral framework,” the growth of law relative to freedom, “the tradeoff,” will be relative to clearer and more understandable principles, which greatly increases the likelihood that a “good balance” is struck between freedom and order (for the “social order” is closely related to a “shared suchness,” as described in “Dialectical Ethics” by O.G. Rose on David Hume). “Radically off interpretations” of the actions of others will be less likely, and that means a “radical appeal” for greater law and order will similarly be less probable. In this way, thanks to shared “suchness,” the oscillations between “the rationality of freedom” and “the rationality of order” will be less volatile and more stable.
Now, before moving on, it should be noted that a small tribe can indeed be “oppressive” (say a cult), which means we should not assume that what is “small” is necessarily “good” (isolationism can empower cults, after all). It all depends, and only the people in and part of a particular community can tell (as Hume argued that “suchness” and “ought-ness” are linked in deconstructing “is-ness”). “Negotiation” can be used to manipulate and solidify a cult leader which “an outside system” like the State could actually stop — again, we should not assume “systems” are bad, for “ideologies and negotiations” can oppress just as much as can law (a world without law would probably be chaotic and awful). Hence, I am not saying “the bottoms” of the arrows above are necessarily good while “the tops” are bad. I am interested in describing “a tragic tradeoff,” not moralizing a particular social design.
Anyway, the greater the size of the society, the higher the likelihood that there are “hermeneutical differences” between people which results in them misunderstanding the actions and intentions of the people around them; when this occurs, “more law” will become rational, which, in requiring enforcement, will increase system power. For example, the larger the nation and greater the scale, the higher the likelihood Christians and LGBTs will be represented by the same government. To some Christians, LGBT activities are immoral, and for them LGBTs should not be allowed to marry, raise children, and the like. Thinking this way, Christians can think it is moral and even “necessary” for the State to create laws which restrict LGBT activities. At the same time, some LGBTs might think it is immoral for Christians to enroll their children in Sunday Schools where the children are taught doctrines and beliefs before the children are at an age when they can fully and autonomously use and develop their intellectual facilities. For some LGBTs, the State should write laws which make “indoctrination” illegal, restricting Christian activities. But then the fact some LGBTs want this law could be evidence to some Christians that Christians are right to think LGBTs are dangerous (notice the drop of the word “some” there, as usually occurs in these situations), further motivating Christians to petition the State to get involved, an action which LGBTs might interpret as evidence that they are right to be concerned about Christians—on and on.
In this example, we can see how different “hermeneutical frameworks” result in different understandings of what constitutes moral and immoral action, and thus what uses of freedom are rational or irrational. In both cases, there are reasons to restrict freedom, and certainly there are times when restricting freedom in favor of law is a good thing (we don’t to allow horrible crimes, after all). What interests me is how the more diversity there is, there more hermeneutical differences there will be, and thus the greater probability that freedom feels irrational to everyone to some degree. Everyone will likely always feel like there is “some law” that needs to exist and “some change in the system” which needs to be implemented, and certainly I think there are plenty of times when that impulse and impression are justified (I can certainly think of some “reforms”). My point is that more a system scales, for good and for bad, the greater the probability laws will be introduced and freedom restricted. As laws are introduced, there will be a need to enforce those laws, and so the system will grow. This in turn will possibly cause more “hermeneutic disagreements,” which will make people desire more laws to correct—on and on.
If LGBTs successfully pass a law which limits “the indoctrination of children,” then Christians may want to pass a law in response which “protects religious liberty,” in response to which LGBTs will feel like “religious liberty” is used to justify immorality, and thus there will be “rational reason” to oppose religious liberty, as there will be “rational reason” for Christians to seek laws which protect “religious liberties,” etc. Because of different moral frameworks and hermeneutics, Christians and LGBTs will thus be locked into a “back and forth” which favors greater systematizing, greater law, greater use of the State, and less individual freedom. “Less individual freedom” isn’t necessary bad—that is not my claim—but the point is that “growing scale may cause a feedback loop which causes greater systemizing.” Great systemizing doesn’t necessarily mean greater scale, but that does seem to be the trajectory and increases the probability. Also, I’m not saying “every law” equally restricts freedom or equally causes a feedback loop such as I have described: my point is only to explore a possible “feedback loop.”
That all said, even if the increase of scale does not (always) cause a feedback loop which increases the probability that further scale occurs, the very act of increasing scale increases the probability of greater diversity, and by extension a reduction in “hermeneutic binding,” which leads to the challenges outlined in this paper. Again, as stressed in the other works about Game B, alternative communities can certainly work at small enough of a scale (I see no “necessary reason” why they cannot)—the question we have explored is if something like Game B can successfully “scale.” Considering this, even if scale does not (always) stimulate greater scale, the manual increase of scale will lead to “hermeneutic unbinding” (for good and for bad). Please note that “hermeneutics” apply on the individual and personal level, so what we are describing here are not simply matters of “metaphysical frameworks” according to which we believe in God, ethics, or the like.
Moving on, if scale generates law, and scale increases systemization, another reason that systemization might be hard to stop once it reaches a certain point is that it will be protected by an incredibly vast array of laws and moral efforts. People “morally” and “rationally” wanted x and y law to come into existence, and if the system is changed, the laws will be threatened. In this way, as scale increases and “hermeneutical binding” weakens, increasingly more people will be invested in some parts of “the system,” and everyone will want their part of the system to be protected while others parts are changed. This will lead to dysfunction which the system might grow to fix, ironically, a paradox which Government’s End by Jonathan Raugh proves useful for understanding.
Overall, what I am suggesting is that, in a social order, it is probable that there will always be some percent of people who “want the system to grow,” and the bigger the system becomes, the greater the size of that discontent group. In this way, system growth will motivate further system growth, which suggests the trajectory of society is toward “greater system growth” and “away from ideological organization via negotiation” (for good and for bad). To the degree the social order is nonconformist and diverse is to the degree the society will be “toward” greater scale and greater systemization. Diversity leads to systems which manage that diversity, which means that for a society to handle the diversity which is good for us, contributes to creativity, and the like, we must increasingly rely on a system that doesn’t need us to function. The beauty of diversity entails the risk of systems.
Greater diversity tends to lead to great systemization via “hermeneutical differences” and ethics, which means diversity requires a system that can “work without us” (as described here), but that means the system might be difficult to stop, which is very problematic if Game B is right about Game A. A society with little systemization is going to rely heavily on people using their freedoms “rationality” so that “more law” does not become desirable (and thus greater systemization), but where “hermeneutic binding” is less due to increased scale and increased diversity, it is going to be very difficult for people not to interpret “the rational action” of some as “irrational,” basically meaning that a “rational” and “moral” appeal to law is inevitable. Is there no hope then for avoiding systemization at scale?
Well, it depends: “culture” and “ideas” can play a role (suggesting truth to the possibility of “human development,” as stressed by Metamodern thinkers—it just depends on what we mean, for Dark Renaissance thinkers believe in “development” too, just perhaps different in nature from Metamodern programs, though clarifying all this would require another paper). Avoiding the problem outlined above would require radical empathy, for the members of the large society to “enter into the worlds” of the people around them and understand that, relative to those others, those others are not acting immorally, which will lighten the certainty that “more law is needed” versus say “democratic discussion” or “mutual respect.” Yes, law will be needed to some degree, but the likelihood we find the right balance between “law” and “freedom” without empathy is basically impossible. (There is a reason “empathy” is practically “critical thinking,” as argued in “On Critical Thinking” by O.G. Rose). In a diverse society, we need empathy in order to really know “the suchness” of that community, which David Hume argued was necessary for the society not to be organized by raw power. Empathy isn’t the same as “suchness,” no, and ultimately it might be impossible for empathy to play the role of “suchness” practically and for the majority, but if there is a possible solution to the problems we have described in this work, “empathy” is part of the equation.
China is ideologically and genetically non-diverse, and yet it is also a very systemized society—it is not the case that a lack of diversity necessitates a lack of system. That is not my argument, for governments can often do what they want for whatever reason they want: my interest in this paper has been how greater systemization can “emergently” occur as a result of it becoming “rational” and “moral.” Yes, greater systemization can always occur “top down” or thanks to a ruler, but what interests me are the ways it can happen without some dictator willing it. By understanding the relationship between freedom, rationality, ethics, and scale, I think we can start to understand how we can all end up like Josef K under the eyes of the loving parents described in Tocqueville. This fate can be avoided through “hermeneutic binding,” but, for good and for bad, such “binding” is not possible where there is diversity. Diversity requires empathy, but please note that what I mean by “empathy” is perhaps different from what is traditionally described…
In closing, to allude to “Explained and Addressed” by O.G. Rose, it is possible that the more we feel “explained but not addressed,” the more freedom may lose its desirability, and the more “top-down approaches” (law) which help us feel addressed become rational. To escape reductionism, mental health problems, and the like, we might work to create structures and reestablish “social givens” which organize our lives and help us know what to do. Where “address” is lacking, reducing freedom might become rational, which may or may not be the case. However, if there is something about freedom which we require to be “addressed,” then in the name of “address” we may reduce the likelihood we experience it. I’m not sure this is the case, but when dealing with humans, we must always be on the lookout for irony.