Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Abuse of Social Forces

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A common and entirely misleading misunderstanding over desirism is over the desire to torture and similar desires. We will use the desire to torture as an exemplar here.

The desire to torture is a necessarily as well as directly desire thwarting desire, since it requires the thwarting of the victim’s aversion to pain.  Without such thwarting of the victim’s aversion to pain it is not torture.

Consider the torturer who, considerately, gives a pain killer to the victim, so that the victim’s aversion to pain is not thwarted, then surely this defeats the object of the torturer's desires (whether for fun, information, control, fear or otherwise), since the state of affairs that is the target of the desire is not fulfilled, as the state of affairs requires that the victim’s aversion to pain is thwarted. (Other desires of the victim are also directly thwarted, as whilst they are being tortured they are not able to pursue the fulfilment of their other desires, however that can also achieved by imprisonment alone, no torture required, however it is the desire to torture we are considering here)

The main confusion is over the distribution of this desire in a population.  If the desire to torture is present, then either the torturer’s desires is thwarted or the victim’s is. When it is absent, neither types of agent’s desires are thwarted. So it makes no difference how many or how few have this desire, it is still a necessary and directly desire-thwarting desire.

Note this is not always the case, for some desires its presence tends to fulfil other desires, whereas its absence does neither, or worse, tends to thwart other desires. For example a desire for charity or a desire not to harm others.

Another mistake we need to clear up is that the torturer and those who support or are even entertained by this act often have other desires, for which the desire to torture is a means to fulfil those other desires. In such case, those desires can and must be independently evaluated to see if they tend to thwart or fulfil other desires (or neither). If the only means to fulfil those other desires is through promoting or not inhibiting (making it permissible) the desire to torture, then the conclusion is that those are desires that tend to thwart other desires, that is generally people have reason to inhibit such other desires too.

However there is another confusion, over the employment of the social forces. We will investigate that here.

This is usually a response of the form of using the social forces to promote a desire to be tortured, usually in some sub-set of the population. There are a number of issues with this.

First an aversion to pain is not malleable. Whether one provides pharmaceutical (such as pain killers) or genetic modifications, these both defeat the desire to torture itself. What is required is for people to have desire to have their aversion to pain thwarted. Such a desire is a desire thwarting desire with one notable exception. And note this exception does not apply to other similar desires, making this not the best exemplar of its class. However an extension of it servers to make useful point.

There are some circumstances where some people  get “sexually turned on” by having pain inflicted upon them “masochists” and others enjoy inflicting such pain “sadists”. As I understand it, there are limits as to what pain is inflicted and is acceptable. This still looks on the surface like torture but has a significant difference to the general desire we are discussing, namely that it is done by consenting adults and with specific limits. As odd or even disgusting their sexual pursuits might appear to the rest of us, they only seek for it to be permissible and morally neutral, neither to be promoted or inhibited. Indeed there is no reason generally for people to either promote or inhibit such acts between consenting adults.

We can extend this idea. Let us suppose we are a different species where the only way to conceive is through the infliction of pain on each other in the act of sex. Sex without the pain does not lead to conception but is enjoyable. Leaving evolutionary considerations aside, it would be the case the members of that species generally have reason to promote torture and the desire to be tortured in that circumstance. Given this, there would be no need for contraception in that species. Still scientists could have a role here, to discover a way to conceive without inflicting pain on one another. Should there be such a discovery, then then would be no reason to promote torture and the desire to be tortured anymore, and plenty of reasons to promote this discovery. No doubt, there might be some traditionalists, but that would be their choice. The point is that for no desire, even one that is necessarily directly desire thwarting, does it necessarily follow that generally people have reasons to inhibit it. Anyway we are not that species.

This exception aside what is at issue here is affecting people without their consent, especially when a desire to torture is considered as an exemplar for other desires, up to and including a desire for genocide, is that still generally people do not have reasons to promote such a desire.

Still people can use and abuse the social forces.

One could imagine a society where a sub-set of the (human) population are given the choice to be tortured or be killed. In that case they do have reasons to promote a desire to be tortured given the alternatives. But there are obvious moral issues over such alternatives. Unfortunately I find it impossible to imagine any benign alternative that would lead to such people choosing to promote a desire to be tortured against their consent. But let us imagine there is such a benign alternative and it can be promoted by the social forces such that a desire to be tortured is installed in this sub-set of the population, including by the sub-set themselves.

So does this now change the original desire to torture (not this new desire to be tortured) from being a necessarily and directly desire thwarting desire into a desire fulfilling desire, in virtue of this successful application of the social forces?

No. What we are now evaluating is the application of the social forces themselves. We are asking whether generally people should use the social forces this way. That is are the social forces being used as a means to promote a desire that tends to fulfil other desires or a desire that tends to thwart other desires? In this case, the use of the social forces to promote a desire to be tortured is a means to fulfil a desire to torture, which is a desire that generally people have reasons to inhibit.  So in this case, the use of the social forces this way is to be condemned, generally people have many reasons to inhibit the use of the social forces this way.

When seeking to establish whether a desire is to be promoted or inhibited generally, it is not only the current  distribution and strength of the population (or an ad hoc selecting of a population to support a pre-ordained conclusion) that needs to be discounted as confounds, but also how the use of the social forces could be possibly abused. The establishment of what generally people have reason to promote and inhibit is independent of both of any distribution of desires  and any application of the social forces. To repeat the old adage “two wrongs do not make a right”.

Indeed in the past and in many cases in the present, the social forces have and are being abused by the differential power and authority of one sub-set of the population over the rest, often by successfully convincing the rest that this is in their interest. So, when evaluating a population, we are often evaluating their use of the social forces (actual or imagined, as in the above example), by comparing what their social forces are promoting and inhibiting versus what generally people have reason to promote and inhibit.

Remember, the establishment of what desires generally people have reasons to promote and inhibit is a description and prediction of how people will respond to the fulfilment of the desires under consideration. It is in virtue of a desire tending to thwart other desires that the thwarting of these other desires are the reasons the people have to inhibit the desire, it is in virtue of a desire tending  to fulfil other desires that the fulfilling of these other desires are the reasons that people have to promote the desire. This remains the same regardless of how the social forces have been abused and serves to identify whether the social forces are being abused.

So one cannot change a desire that generally people have reasons to inhibit into a desire that generally people have reasons to promote, by the use of the social forces. One can promote a desire that generally people have reasons to inhibit by the use of the social forces, but then generally people have reasons to condemn such use of the social forces. 

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