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The Abandonment of Moral Agency in America.

I happen to think that Hugh Hefner demonstrates better morals and is a better example of a socially-conscious, patriotic Citizen than any any randomly selected politician or pulpet-pounder you are likely to come up with as a counterexample. Why? Actions speak louder than words.

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Hugh Hefner with Girlfriend and "Girl Next Door" Kendra
Lets's start this out with a quote from Tibor R. Machan, Co-Founder of Reason Magazine.
..when someone advocates a disagreeable idea, no one's rights are being violated; when someone engages in self-destructive conduct, once again the culprit isn't violating any rights; when someone sells dope to a willing adult buyer, once again no rights are being violated. Consensual interaction can not be rights violating. But what, you might ask, about vulnerable folks, with weak wills? Here is where the complications arise, which is why the matter isn't amenable to being treated briefly. If ordinary citizens, human beings, do have free will, as morality and the criminal law assume, they are able, even if with some difficulty, to resist temptations and inducements from others to do what can hurt them. If they refuse to resist, if they decide to take up a bad habit-smoking dope, gambling excessively, hiring hookers-and even get addicted, this is their responsibility to handle. Others may be morally blameworthy for attempting to induce them, tempting them, promoting the bad behavior, but no one has violated their rights in doing this. I can influence others, perhaps, with fancy words, with charisma, and the like but none of this forcibly imposes anything on them, none of it amounts to violating their rights. Even if they are unusually vulnerable, they have the freedom to take measures to protect themselves from my bad influence-they can avoid me, form a support group to keep away from tempting literature I might send their way, and so forth.
Indeed, it is both insulting and presumptuous to assume that others ARE "acting irresponsibly" or subject to "bad influences," and to interfere with their rights, associations and chosen supports, friends and even chemical crutches on that basis is both unethical and immoral. If they wish your advice, they may ask. And of course, to complain of their choices imposes the moral obligation upon you to provide choices that are objectively better than theirs.
..within the framework of the American political and legal tradition, animated by the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence, victimless crimes simply are no proper crimes at all. The people "committing" them may be vicious, evil, acting immorally, and so forth but their doing so does not suffice, in a free society, to make them criminals.

As I've said many times and in many ways, morality is not the proper concern of government, it is the proper province of religion and religious leaders, for the very reasons related above.

For religion to become government, or government to become religious is to degrade the legitimate authority of each, with the price of a bastard entity that has less social utility than either separate entity, much less the combined force of each. Don't take my word for this, read some history. It's utterly lousy with examples, from Phillip of Spain to Constantine to the Holy Inquisition.

Government, ideally speaking, places few, and only necessary limitations upon the liberty of individuals in order to protect the interests of all. For instance, driver's licenses and speed regulations.

Aside from having the force of law, speed limits are based on the far more immutable laws of physics - stopping distance, limits of visibility and the like. In other words, aside from the law and it's role in determining accountability should you screw up, it is also doing it's higher duty of providing you with information so that you do NOT screw up in a way potentially harmful to others.

But, ultimately, how fast you drive is your choice, and speed limits (as well as most other traffic laws) are obviously considered advisory by many people. We all put up with the consequences of that with every single commute, yet while it's technically feasible and probably cost effective, you aren't seeing "smart roads" springing up, so that all high-speed traffic is computer controlled. Individual liberty is worth some calculated risks and many inconveniences.

I think it obvious that a single person in their own vehicle under conditions that do not exceed their ability, with no other person's life at risk without consent should have the right to make such calculated risks. I have no problem with that. Nor will you see the highway patrol in any state wasting much time patrolling lonely roads to protect people from miscalculations.

The question as to whether you have the moral right to put yourself at risk is quite another matter - and the answer varies greatly due to the religion. Some would bypass that by saying that you have the moral obligation to obey all laws, so as not to be a bad example to others.

I personally reject that arguement, for it precludes responsible civil disobedience. Worse yet it makes "respect for authority" a moral imperative, irrespective of it's competence or consequences. There is a place for social disobedience as a statement of personal, moral and ethical integrity, with consequences that are no more avoidable for being largely un-addressed in law.

Separation of church and state is not for the benefit of the unchurched, nor is it for the benefit of an "amoral" government. Our government has a Constitution, which is it's particular "morality;" it's legal and ethical boundaries set in stone. It quite properly leaves the moral dimension of individual actions to those with the moral responsibility to handle those choices. For those that have difficulty with making good moral and ethical choices, we have separate institutions, as Machan notes above; churches, AA, Masonic orders and the Rotary Club that each deal with various aspects and dimensions of personal and professional ethics, moral choice and individual responsibility.

Should their advice become law, whatever spiritual benefit that may accrue from making the "right" choices comes rightfully into question, as does the necessity for the institution itself.

Worse yet, these ultimate questions of ethics become identified with particular political viewpoints, economic interests and doctrinal associations. And to the extent that one or another congregation of interest "wins" a point, individual liberty is always diminished, at the expense of both the individual and the consequent life-lesson.

If I avoid "occasions of sin" because consequences for such "sins" have been inflated to the point of absurdity, what need have I for a church? The government will suffice, and then all that is not forbidden is permitted. Conversely, if all "sins" recognized by government are known by their draconian punishments, it becomes far more possible to shrug off the ordinary consequences of mistakes ("sin" means just that, "mistake") that are not deemed illegal.

I humbly suggest that we already see the consequences of this sort of thinking - and most dramatically within the folds of the very strictest denominations themselves. The crusade against "moral relativism" is in fact just this - an attempt to extinguish the idea that a particular action may have particular consequences under particular circumstances that make it specifically a sin for that person in that case - but not in another. This, of course, requires individual judgment informed by specific understandings of ethics and moral choice, a realization that would put a large number of professional moralists out of work.

But if "moral relativism" is so dangerous, we should look at the success rate for "Moral Absolutism, " the choice of dominionists and fundamentalists of most religions.

The metrics for divorce are higher in states dominated by the "big box churches", for example, by significant margins. This is one of many indicators that suggest to me that the conservative churches of America, in focusing on the sins of those outside their congregation and insisting on the general at the expense of the specific have failed their duties to the flock within. That duty is not to the group as a whole, much less to the nation as a whole - it is to each and every separate individual faced with their own individual challenges.

When Jesus said "feed my sheep," it was within a culture quite used to tripping over the damn things. Sheep are harmless unless they fall on you, inoffensive and have an amazing capacity for innocently wandering into death traps, stepping on feet and crapping indiscriminately. Furthermore, if not taken to where they are literally up to their ankles in food, they will helplessly starve while bleating pathetically. Jesus was a realist, and he was not complementing the flock, nor conveying power with out duty.

"Feeding the sheep" is a chore. A duty. An obligation of those capable of recognizing that for one reason or another, praise Goddess, they are NOT sheep.

I use the word Goddess to underline the fact that the duty is inescapable by simply choosing to become something other than Christian. Indeed, from my perspective, the ethics of the matter are clear enough that I'd be saying the same thing as an atheist.

Government is wholesale. Religion - and it's secular equivalents - are retail. By seeking to become major secular powers, influencing governments the various churches have both currently and historically become whores TO government, or become governments themselves.

But the shepherd does not get to choose which sheep they have a duty toward - they run after any sheep in trouble . The dogs may attend to the flock as a whole. And yes, we may indeed use that as a metaphor for Law.

The law is implacable, and for that reason alone it must be as minimal a restriction on individual liberty as possible, so that it does not interfere with our individual rights and responsibilities.

For instance, while it's Unconstitutional (a fact, though it's an often inconvenient fact in the face of the utter failure of our churches to do their rightful tasks) to forcibly take money from Peter to feed Paul, I see no constitutional impediment to it establishing mechanisms whereby Paul can choose to feed Peter.

It would certainly be Constitutional for it to invest in a universal insurance scheme that did not depend on borrowing from the future. Better yet, it could simply serve as a conduit for such schemes, to amortize risk, minimize overhead and serve to ensure that such services did not become schemes for profit or power.

No government - nor for that matter, religion - is truly wise and all-seeing enough to truly know what any of us need to meet our responsibilities, or even directly determine what our needs are and meet them. Were it possible to know, such knowledge would be so totally invasive as to completely strip us of all human dignity.

Therefore, state and church exist in separate, immiscable capacities to advise, and with our consent, provide information, resources and human contacts to help with those most personal and non-transferable duties. Nor may any entity, person, religion, corporation or government claim to be wise enough to know for certain that in the face of a poor outcome, their choices would have been better on behalf of any particular individual.

First attempt define what "better" would be for every single affected person with inarguable accuracy first, with absolute reliability from the viewpoint of those in need and you will see my point. Even the most obvious-seeming judgments rely on assumptions based on your informed guess as to what would be best for most people, with "most" being ultimately defined as "people you know."

Therefore, "judge not, lest you be judged also." It's not a prediction of future consequence, it's an observation of very immediate human reaction. The moment you make assumptions about individuals based on your assumptions about what people "should" do or be able to do, you reveal your own personal inability to accept realities and people outside of your understanding.

To you Christians out there who nonetheless refuse to feed Paul for various transparently false rationalizations - the Bible says that if someone comes to your town and is hungry, and he is not fed, clothed and given refuge, then they may take what he needs from the altar of the Temple. As I recall, it would ordinarily be a lesser offense under the Levitical Code you are all so fond of for them to steal from you.

The Constitution will not force you to act morally, ethically or even responsibly. It does not demand that you "hold up your end," nor will it force others to compensate for your lack. It will not protect you from the consequences of pretending you are when you are not. Nor is there any legitimate religion, system of ethics or morality that will pretend otherwise. Not even Satanism. What the Constitution does is to attempt to limit Government from interfering with your rights - and empowering it to protect your individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from the encroachment of others.

If you are genuinely unable by temperament, mental state, or circumstances to act responsibly in all things, then it is your responsibility to seek out help, just as it is your duty to help when called on by those in genuine need. There is a reciprocal responsibility to be helpful, and where government can legitimately make help from over here available over there it must - as our designated agent and adviser.

It's just that simple, and no, you really don't get to pick and choose between the "deserving and undeserving;" not as a Christian, and certainly not as a Deist, a Humanist or indeed, an irreligious, self-centered couch-potato. Refusing to recognize an ethical necessity does not make it go away.

As I study the Constitution, I realize more and more that it deliberately denies the People the comfortable apathy of a state that exists to "take care" of them. Even the sheep have the the minimum responsibility of finding a trustworthy shepherd. Those of you claiming to be shepherds, but who are but shills for the slaughterhouse - well, sooner or later the smell of blood will betray you.

Aint' that right, Messers. Bush and Haggard?

With such examples of "Christianity" in positions of power, it is deeply and damnably ironic to hear comparable asshats intone that "This Is A Christian Nation." With Pharisees in charge, it's time to consult a Samaritan.

Here's an example of a really excellent Samaritan. (NSFW)

Yes, that links to Playboy's "The Girls Next Door." And yes, Hefner has all three of them underfoot. And yes, I'm sure the relationship is mutually satisfactory, sexually and financially.

But the point is, it's not a relationship Hefner has any obvious financial need to have and watching the show is evidence enough that there are some significant downsides. Hef chose to care for three girls who are... erm... well, they are prettier than sheep but not a whole lot smarter.

My wife - the special educator - became fascinated by the show. Kendra is her favorite. She says it gives her hope for some of her students.

You see, responsibility need not be fulfilled out of pure altruism, nor are you expected to be of help where you cannot. Such bizarre ideas lead inevitably to abuse, exploitation and burnout.

Those particular three women would drive me completely, stark raving mad, even were I financially capable of padding life's corners for them as Hefner has. Furthermore, by giving each of them responsibilities commensurate to their talents, such as this show, he is also giving them an individual dignity that few others could.

The show itself makes one smile. That was something I simply did not expect. I thought it would be primarily about cleavage and jiggle, but oddly, it's mostly not. Or rather, cleavage and jiggle is so pervasive it becomes invisible, even when they are wandering around as blissfully naked as happy toddlers. (I actually find the FCC-required blur troubling, it transforms the nudity into a sexualized nakedness that simply doesn't exist without it.)

That's really how they come across, as happy innocents who really do not get what all the fuss is about being naked in the sunshine. It makes one question whether in "knowing better," one is really choosing something that is, in fact "better."

I grudgingly admit that it's forced me to reassess my own prejudices regarding stereotypical "blond bimbos," even as my wife's love for dogs made me reassess dogs in the light of her love and acceptance of the nature of dogs.

Dogs are dogs, and no amount of therapy or exhortation will make them into cats or caterpillars, so one may as well enjoy them for what they are, rather than condemning them for what they are not. As one who has much need to claim such indulgences - I find myself embarrassed that I had un-noticed reservation in giving equal charity to others.

Being factually more intelligent than any of the girls does not make me a better person, and certainly not a less inherently annoying person.

What makes me a better person is being accepted for who and what I am, without shame or embarrassment, and being aided (by my lovely wife) to leverage my abilities to our mutual pleasure, advantage and satisfaction.

In my own unique way, I can exhibit stupidities to rival those of any of those three - and without being nearly as decorative. But under Hef's gentle rule, they flourish, and manage to rise to meet his own, rather unusual needs. I'm not talking sex, per se. Hefner seems to have a need for a degree of isolation from "the real world" that exceeds even mine - and so he has dedicated his whole life toward creating his own private Xanadu. He makes it possible by sharing his idea of beauty open-handedly. There is a price of admission, of course, but one must pay the staff.

And, interestingly enough, the staff does things for Hefner on a routine basis that I cannot imagine that most bosses could expect in their wildest dreams. There's something about Hef that is truly sweet and innocent, that makes one want to keep him safe from the sharp corners of the world.

The result is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts - most of which would be pretty dysfunctional without the whole. And yet there are many who would cheerfully "save" these girls from sin, and smash Hef's whole empire out of a moral superiority that obviously blinds them to evident fact.

This is why growups refuse to let the morality of others get in the way of one's own ethics, and such also is the advantage of refusing to be bound by the disapproval of those who would certainly refuse to do the right thing themselves on "moral" grounds. Were these girls to have been in Ireland as little as ten years ago, they could easily have been "helped" by being forced into a Magdeline Laundry.

Such is the "charity" of our churches who would consider that preferable to being safely and well employed being an instructive "occasion of sin" to bluenoses and moralists.

As a Libertarian, I accept the principle that charity is not the province of government. That does not make the duty to be charitable and neighborly, decent and civilized go away - as so many of my fellow Libs and certainly the vocal right wing preach and practice. Charity is OUR duty.

"Charity" such as the Magdeline Laundries, and all other such joyless, cheerless and oppressive substitutes for the plain obligations we have to one another are the result of the religious acting towards others as if they were a government.

Clearly, they do this no better than Governments On Crusade Against The Heathen.

But neither can become such abominations of desolation without our permission and tacit support. Only by abandoning our duty can they achieve such power over the "others" we see as being "the problem." This of course grants them power over us they neither need, deserve nor handle well.

It's time for us to join together in demanding that our government govern constitutionally and our religions and other such groups return to the duties they have long abandoned, which ultimately is to aid each individual who asks in governing themselves and fulfilling their own duties as best they can.

We can make an immediate start by doing two simple things: first, take back our government by impeaching those who have taken and misused that power. Second, we must take back our own moral agency from those who have willfully abused our trust by telling us that we should support this most damnable, immoral, unchristian war.

Not just Christians - groups and supposed "authority" of all stripes that have encouraged us to "trust" this administration, to trust in their good intentions against all evidence and against all principles of just law, just war and the teachings of every scripture and source of wise and tested moral and practical wisdom must suffer correction at your hands.

Shake the dust from your feet. LEAVE your big-box church. TURN the dial on your radio. Reclaim your moral agency and never again suppress your doubts or hold back sharing your reproof for those who's words from the pulpit encourage moral apathy, complacency or seek to make you fearful of the consequences of questioning authority and seeking to know the truth for yourself.

Everything George Bush has said and done, he has done in your name. Everything that Pat Robertson, Sun Myung Moon, James Dobson and others have been able to achieve, socially and politically is because you choose to fund and support them in the face of overwhelming evidence that their alliances, motives and beliefs rendered them untrustworthy by definition.

Are you comfortable with the results you see? Are you happy with the consequences of your misplaced trust? Indeed, have you even bothered to check for yourself? Whether or not you know, whatever you believe to be true, whatever you wish to be the truth is irrelevant.

You are accountable for the consequences of YOUR choices to other actual individuals. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Not just because it's RIGHT, because that's exactly what they will do.

Empowering others to make moral choices and act against the interests of others in your name does not absolve you from any consequences at all, no matter whether you believe in God, Provenance, random chance or merely human nature. Right now, your choice is to stand up and hold yourself accountable for your mistakes - or accept the fact that others will. Because they do, and have every right to do so.

tag: Reason, Morality, Law, Ethics, Government, Libertarian Philosophy, Religious Ethics, Individual Responsibility, Social Obligations, Impeachment, Citizenship, United States, Patriotism, Hugh Hefner, The Girls Next Door, Tibor R. Machan, Christianity, Unintended Consequences, common decency, culture, Christianists, Constitution, cultural warfare
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Bob King is a long time political blogger, writing from a Progressive-Libertarian point of view that derives from his personal passion for justice and life-long experience as an "odd duck." He believes in free markets - and would like to see them in (more...)
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