Secular Distributism; Moral Absolutes

I’ve been keeping a curious tab on the Distributionist’s Review which is a news blog with the focused aim of distributing the ideas of the easry 20th Century catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton called Distributionism.

I’ve talked before about how the system of thought surrounding the old distrobutism has remarkable similarities to Free and Open Source models and I’m not the only one to think so. But in this blog entry I’d like to outline where I fundamentally disagree with a lot of distrobutionists: Religion and absolute Morality.

As a good apathist I’m not keen on god. By not keen I mean to say I think it’s a brain disease, a mental disorder which poisons reason and is the resting place of unfounded faith and the denial of evidence. The undoing of self understanding and in an attempt to explain the outside world with inside your head data really misses the point of philosophy.

OK so now I’ve made it clear that I’m not a supporter of religion or gods (whether they exist or not I don’t care), the one thing about the Distrobutionist’s review that sticks in my craw is the way there is often a forced joining of moral thinking, religious fundamentalism and economic process.

It’s true that many factors of economics do need to include morality, but morality isn’t absolute, you can find yourself in a position of having to commit immoral acts by virtue of being stuck between decisions which are all immoral, all cause suffering and in these cases I will have to apply the same underlying personalisation of moral responsibility which governs the rest of the distrobutionist philosophy.

Take abortion, which is far harder a topic than contraception which I consider to be perfectly solved, it is a hard question because the assessment of what is life, what is murder and what is suffering give us a negative sum game. No matter what you do, you loose. I’m happier giving this question over to the people and person who will ultimately loose from the decision: the mother. they are the ones who must make the decision because child-in-potentia is their responsibility, not the state’s. But why should the state not punish the murderer after the act?

So long as the state can’t take responsibility for a life immediately, it has no business being a moral authority. Take an extreme case; if a child born can not be looked after by the mother animal and there is no society to take responsibility then it’s very hard to force the mother animal to have a morality that respects the sanctity of life and at the same time rejects the suffering of life; often nature has right the answer where excessive stress in a mother will cause them to kill their children (and possibly eat them).

But where would religions possibly find footing in this apparent abhorrent behaviour? Often this is summed up by the quip about American Calthics: “the foetus is precious, the mother is sinful and the born child is a nuisance to be ignored”. Basically that religions concern themselves will unrealistic absolutes like “life for everyone” without considering the resulting suffering that it causes. This perhaps why my own morality is based on suffering and not on life, to me it’s quite possible for “Thou shall not kill” to become immoral in rare instances.

And besides we can’t very well go around convicting mothers on a morality which is based on their own internal responsibility, it’s not societies place to force individuals into responsibility and suffering. Of course the question then becomes; well how can you support society helping abortion with medical practice?

Another hard question but I put it like this, the mother after careful consideration has requested the help of their community to both help with the consideration and help with the safe medical procedure that will ensure a minimisation of suffering. In this way the community can be more sure the decision was not made lightly and the mother can be sure of not dying from the procedure. Surely this must be the most balanced approach for both women and community.

To the conclusion.

Plenty of anarchists would suggest that as well as being economically distributed an ideal society must also be morally distributed. This might be a little extreme for most who need the reliability and security of a normalised legal morality with which to work from and with other people around them. So a rejection of a moral consensus is not really the way to go.

But I would argue that when considering how your moral consensus ties together with your ideal world view about economic distrobutism, that you must consider it to be an under-developed philosophy and not as many Catholics see it; an absolute perfection delivered by god. Because unquestioning religious dogma has no place in a truly compassionate, thoughtful and moral world view.

Your thoughts?

What the Market Can Bear

I was listening to an interesting video of the rather flamboyant Jimmy McMillan of the rent is too damn high party campaigning for the New York Governor’s office and he brought to mind the recent insistent views of Katie Hopkins on last week’s Young Voter’s Question Time on BBC Three. I should say that I don’t agree with either person as the first seems to lack rationality and the second both compassion and ironically economic understanding.

These two are rather far a part I admit, but something in their radical and disagreeable views created a new idea for me. That perhaps “rent is too high” because “the market will bear” much more when the goods are a requirement to productive living and increase with the degree to which people are able to not buy and even exit out of agreements easily.

So the main economic factor needed to reduce the amount of rent (because it is too damn high) being paid on average is to provide sensible, comfortable and easily accessible alternative housing to as many people as possible from either the government directly or non-profit chartered organisations at a stretch.

My conjecture is that lowering the tolerance of customers (that’s renters) by providing alternatives to private rented accommodation will reduce the rent burden by reducing the amount the market will bear. After all the amount the market will bear is only the amount to which people will/need to pay in order to get the services.

Ironically it means the people who are right wing poor and middle class are inadvertently increasing their own rent by virtue of being indignant about government provided housing. I know plenty of normally sensible people who would like government housing to be as horrid and uncomfortable as possible in order to encourage people’s independence form the state. Of course economics bites them in the arse on that one.

Never let it be said that doing the right wing doesn’t move you left and doing the left wing doesn’t make you right. This is complex man.

Hold on Tight to Principles

I wanted to take this comment I made in an email and post it to my blog. I’m fairly principled and I try my best with all sorts of things. There is something about principles which I think is not well understood and I’d like to offer a tentative explanation:

Principles are a view of the world which can be seen to be idealistic, they are in their nature the very way in which given the way you understand the world to work you could see things being made better and more ideal. Ideals are not always practical, you have to deal with real world issues that are not ideal.

Practicalism isn’t a principle, it’s the ways real world problems can be solved. You use your principles to weigh up the cost of actions that solve the problem. You do _not_ replace your principles wholesale with a view that cheapens and makes light of principles in general but instead use them to dialectically make new and creative solutions to the problems.

Free and Open Source as a principle: It’s both a long term practical benefit (investment) and a universal social good which respects users and brings down the cost of computer software development. I would say that FOSS is one of those unique common sense type principles that have immediate and far reaching effects. The difficulty with spreading the ideas and philosophies are not due to the general public not being able to understand, but instead relate to how tightly vested interests hold onto their own principles about the appropriateness of their product’s terms.

All these things have cultural and political consequences in my view. You don’t have to be a raving supporter or a crazy Ubuntu advocate. I think just being more aware of exactly what the proposition is and why proprietary software is very costly and not worth your time would be very valuable in bringing about a cultural shift.

Thank you for reading my ramble, what are your thoughts? Am I talking out of my hat again? Should I be less concerned with the adoption of practicalism as a principle?

When to Have an Agenda

Recently I’ve found myself having to balance more precariously how I approach local community based activities. Say if I’m going to be teaching Free Software use, then should I be putting to one side my obvious and oblique “Ubuntu is easy” agenda and just go with what is already there?

Even if I know that other people are using events to promote other focuses of interest. If I think the event is worthwhile in it’s own right then I think I ort to be involved and help out where I can.

I know I’ve looked more like an Ubuntu only fan but personally it’s much more about getting the best and quickest Free Desktop in front of as many people as possible, whatever that turns out to be. Making sure that users have tools that work and are respectful of their rights as users under the Free Software definition. That is perhaps my agenda, perhaps trying to spread principles is part of it too?

So long as it’s an event to promote Free and Open Source, I can’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be involved if needed. Weather it’s Debian, Fedora or Firefox.



My thanks goes out to MeNTaLGuY who has brought more material about distributism to my attention and as such reading Sanity by G. K. Chesterton. While I may not agree with his views on the idea that the constitution of socialism is an effective authoritarianism over the means of production, I’m still fascinated by the critique he has for both socialism and capitalism.

“Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

Why do you Like Microsoft?

In a recent blog post about Idealism by Guy Van Sanden there was an interesting comment by Matt:

IMHO an idealist in this situation would say that perhaps MS can be trusted enough that partnerships (the likes Miguel has been forging with those within MS) are of more benefit and vastly more productive than repeated fearmongering. Maybe MS and FOSS can learn to better work together, and realise that there is potential for cooperation of mutual benefit.

I have no interest in dealing with Microsoft, no partnerships, no trust, no respect, their name is dirt to me and socially they are a pariah. Not because of some fundamentalism or because I have an unwarranted grudge; But because they do harm to my communities, they harm my industry and do it wilfully and purposefully and I won’t condone or forgive them while they continue1. In fact I’d have to see reparation for them to recover their name, I don’t think it’s possible.

Matt’s idealist example shows that it’s a jolly old world where it’s nice to be friends with everyone. It’s true, we don’t want conflict, but this is where the idealism in the nature of people’s behaviour is tested and societies have been going on for a long time and we haven’t yet got to the point where people are nice, pleasant and trustworthy especially when they’ve been absolute bastards in the past.

I believe it’s naive, bordering on the cartoon plot line of trust. I can’t decide if it’s admiration for a bully, fear or just plain ignorance of the past that has given people such an optimistic opinion of Microsoft and they seem to be able to wipe away their slate every day.

Fortunately for me, Microsoft is as good as dead anyway, the economics and the technical effects are going to roll right over them. Nothing to do with my idealism or my social concern, but a happy coincidence for me. A Microsoft without a monopoly might well change it’s tune, but are people really trying to convince me that I ‘ort to trust them right now?

1 Some might say it’s worth being spiteful, if we had a big enough stick to beat them with. We don’t have to go that far though.

It's always "Outside Agitators"

When ever a country or organisation is undergoing social unrest there is time and again a very predictable response from out of touch leadership.

It’s those damned outside agitators! They come in here giving all our people these crazy ideas and stir up trouble for the country.

In reality the leadership is attempting to sideline social problems and get it’s people behind an agenda against a common outside foe. But it’s the wrong move since the people who are protesting or rioting are not really interested in re-prioritising and working with the government any more and have lost their cool waiting for change.

Social unrest builds behind the scenes, breaking forward apparently suddenly into what we see on the streets. But it normally goes on for years beforehand, take the Russian or French revolutions from the history books and see what the leaders were saying and compare it to what the leaders of China, Iran or even Hondorus are saying. Nothing changes.

I only hope that these struggles for freedom are successful quickly and that no one gets hurt in the process. Unfortunately not true for Iran right now with 17 dead.