Moral Complexity, Moral Efficacy Was: Moo/Boo!
Wed, 11 Feb 1998 17:25:07 -0800 (PST)

On Tue, 10 Feb 1998, Peter C. McCluskey wrote:

> ( writes:

> >broadening and complicating of ethical perception would pretty
> >self-evidently be extropian. It's an ethical analog to pancritical
> >rationalism. It is an embracing of the moral richness of the
> >world. To say that you "accept" complexity when it's "unavoidable"
> >suggests that it is scarcely a value at all.
> Increasing those other features you mentioned may tend to cause an increase
> in complexity, but that doesn't make complexity valuable in and of itself,
> nor a good indicator of the others.

As I mentioned before, there would seem to be a tradeoff between
decisiveness and openness that I would want to take into consideration
drawing the line as to just how complex I want my ethical deliberations to
be. Nevertheless I have a strong prejudice in favor of complexity. We're
probably talking a little past one another here. To me, "simplicity"
taken as a value in a moral system codes usually as intolerance and lack
of imagination. Want I want from ethical life are strategies that will
put me in a position to appreciate and thrive in as many situations as
either chance or my own design can contrive to throw at me. What seems to
me to be wanted from ethics is richness more than simplicity.

> This is particularly true of moral systems. A moral system, if it is to
> be more than a personal set of habits, must be something that a community
> can agree to follow. Simplicity is valuable in a moral system because
> the easier it is to follow a moral system, the easier it is to keep it
> effective by drawing a clear dividing line between those who follow it
> and those who reject it. Also, the more rules a system has, the harder it
> is to achieve a consensus about it.

I would distinguish an individual moral code (an esthetic/prudential style
of living and individual meaning-making), from a social or political civil
code. I think I've mentioned before that although I pretty strongly
advocate vegetarian practices as individually broadening, I don't think
vegetarian sensitivities should be mandated at the level of law. This is
partly for the reasons you mentioned above. Still, even on your own terms
it seems to me that simplicity isn't a *self-evident* value here. Doesn't
it sometimes conduce to the benefit of social stability for a moral code
to institute wiggle-room and ongoing contestation of norms? Sometimes
it's good to make moral consensus a difficult thing to achieve. Sometimes
its good to keep the dividing lines between the moral and immoral pretty
muddy (as when a clear "us" and "them" underwrites genocidal rages for
order and purity).

> Vegetarianism, unless accompanied by a clear principle for dividing
> nonhuman lifeforms into those whose rights we respect and those we don't,
> risks blurring the boundaries in a way that makes it seem easier to
> for people to decide that that boundary is just a matter of personal
> choice.

Animal rights discourse seems intriguing to me, but pretty flawed. As a
rule I simply try not to inflict pain knowingly and unecessarily on beings
capable of experiencing it. It does seem to me profoundly disrespectful
to recognize that the pain experienced by the beings we instrumentalize as
food (etc) is real but simply doesn't *matter*. I want to respect as wide
a range of beings as I can.
One of the negative consequences of the line between human and
nonhuman animals being so obvious to most people is that it creates a
general category of beings whose pain doesn't matter to us ethically, a
category that seems to attach pretty promiscuously to other beings whose
pain we would prefer not to bother too much with. It is a matter of
record that justifications for misogynist or racist practices often
(almost *always*) make recourse to the theme of the so-called subhuman or
bestial nature of the people it dismisses. Muddying these categorical
waters and so depriving this rhetorical tactic of its sting would possibly
be a salutary thing.
If I were in a position to argue with a Power who was on the verge
of using the population of Poughkeepsie as ubergoo feedstock for some
transhuman construction project, I would say that respecting diversity has
the consequence of opening up an unforseeably richer range of pleasurable
experiences (I for one don't think of my vegetarianism as a limiting or
ascetic lifestyle as many seem to), as well as providing a robust and
resilient cultural system better able to fend off dangers unforseeable to
even such a Power. I see my vegetarianism as a dress rehearsal for Power
ethics to come. (I'm sorry to hereby inflict the list with more "My
Little Pony" extropianism.) Anyway, I agree with you that the boundary
does indeed seem to be one of personal choice. I wouldn't say it is
"just" personal choice, since this suggests that stronger injunctions are
available, when ultimately I suspect they are not. Peter, thanks for the
very considered reply to that last post. We seem to be interested in
similar problems even if we draw lines in different places.
Very interesting, very enjoyable. Best, Dale