Sunday, February 26, 2012

Law, Morality, and Relgion

It is frequently asserted that laws are moral and that religion has a hand in that. Sometimes this gets mixed up in the concept that without religion there is no morality. This idea is understandable, no religion will last that creates social conditions that end in disorder and chaos, which means that any lasting religion will set out codes of behavior that result in some sort of social comity.

Governments that aren't a religion have a similar goal, social comity and lack of disorder and chaos. Having common goals often results in similar restrictions and requirements. A religion that teaches that murder is against the teachings and rules of the deity is certainly increasing social comity and decreasing disorder and chaos and it calls that stricture morality (god-given morality). A government concerned with social comity and lack of disorder and chaos will also place restrictions on murder, it requires no deity to do so, nor even morality - it is simple self-interest and survival for it to do so.

Governments have a couple tools at hand to achieve the ends of order and comity, punishment and reward, generally monetary or physical. Because a government deals with the temporal and worldly it really can't count on a deity to take immediate care of those rewards and punishments. It will deal with malefactors in a temporal manner, taking their money, their freedom, or their lives and do so with force. The tools the government has are abjectly amoral, it will force you rather than appeal to your "better nature." Once a law is established you are not asked about it, you are told and that telling is backed up by force. Compelling is not about morality, it is not an appeal to morality, it is not backed by morality, it is plainly unconcerned with the entire concept.

You can certainly build a government around damn near any document the populace will bear, holy books or other concepts of order and comity but once that is done the whole affair becomes at best amoral. It is popular to call Nazi Germany evil and immoral and the behavior of individuals involved does offend most of us at a moral level. That government wasn't destroyed because it was amoral or immoral, it was destroyed because it failed the basic goals of order and comity. It failed them internally and more importantly, internationally. The wholesale slaughter of a citizenry is not order, it is force at ferocious levels and it has nothing to do with comity.

There certainly is a moral component to the idea of slavery, it offends a basic empathy. As a feature of government it fails on another level, it certainly has nothing to do with comity for the subjected group and fails as order in the face of the resistance of that group to subjugation and the need for extreme force to maintain it. It is easy to forget that order requires very broad agreement or extreme force and extreme force is in itself disorder if applied at all broadly. It is certainly extreme force when a police officer shoots an armed robber, but that level of force is applied individually and rarely.

Drug laws are frequently put forward as a moral issue dealt with by law. It is pretty easy to track the success of those laws. Drugs certainly do have effects on comity and order, getting run over by a truck driven by an incapacitated driver is real in terms of order as are deaths from overdoses or psychological consequences. These outcomes are entirely separate from the morality of drug usage and because drugs are treated differently than the issue demands for comity and order the laws fail. Tremendous amounts of enforcement result in huge incarceration figures and huge profits for avoiding the laws leading to disorder and enmity afflicting entire communities.

It is entirely reasonable to have a moral code that aligns with laws and to wish to conduct a life in accordance with or in excess of law, it another thing to think that those laws are moral or religious. Through out history there have been governments that operated under cover of morality or religion, enforcing dogma as law. In the shorter term when their populations are homogenous they tend to be pretty efficient at keeping themselves in power. Over time they become increasingly forceful with their populations which fails the goals of comity and order and finally results in failure. The time scales of failure have accelerated through out history progressing through millenia to centuries to decades. Minus the intervention of outside interests, Iran should prove an interesting test case.

Hell, the US may prove interesting in that regard.

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