The Cons and the Dupes
by David Sims
AN INTERNET commentator, Lucis Ferrell, said “Science deals with what is demonstrably real.” In fact, science deals with what can be demonstrated to be false, or not-real, thus removing it from the set of ideas that are candidates for the status of “fact.” That’s how experiments work. They don’t so much find out what the truth is, but what it is not. Discovery is mostly a process of elimination.
A scientist proposes a hypothesis, a statement about Nature, or whatever his subject matter might be, that he thinks might be true. Then he and all his friends, and some of his enemies, go right to work trying to disprove it. Not prove — but disprove. A hypothesis that passes one test today might yet fail another test someday. But a hypothesis that fails a test is false, now and forever.
Mr. Ferrell also said, “The conditions of reality is the environment we behave morally or immorally in, in response to real threats, promises, or other conditions.” I’m not quite sure what he means, but I’ll make a few convenient assumptions. First, I’m going to assume that there is some question about whether morality is a subject treatable by science. Second, I’m going to assume that, if morality can be examined scientifically, that not all moral systems are equal: Some are better than others.
By what measure do you assign worth to, or recognize quality in, moral systems?
Well, Ayn Rand, though a Jewess, had part of the answer. She held, and her doctrine Objectivism holds, that the standard by which a moral code is to be judged is whether it aids or hinders a man in the pursuit of his own interests. The primary value to each person, she said, was his own life.
Rand made a good argument, but not a great one. She was right to home in on the life (or survival) part of it. Nothing matters to the dead. Only to something alive may anything else be good. Life is a prerequisite for the value of all else in the Universe, and so it is, itself, the ultimate value, without peer in terms of moral precedence. Truth is probably the value in second place, likewise occupying that tier in isolation. In the third rank we begin to have pluralities of values: freedom, justice, and the like.
But all individuals must die. No individual life can be made to endure for long, and by placing the ultimate moral value on one’s own life, shunning “collectivism,” a Randian must selfishly forbear doing whatever does not bring him profit during his own life.
The most nebulous of all human collectives is “the people of the future.” Even a selfish Randian is pretty sure that it isn’t a null set, but you haven’t got the foggiest notion of who its members will be. What selfish, rational individualist would value them in the least? None. None at all. To value the condition of the world of the future and the fortunes of those who must live in it is to engage in collectivism: Hem and haw and hedge about as you will, that is a fact. The human lifespan is brief in relation to the march of events in history, and that’s one of the reasons that Objectivism will never a worthy moral code make.
Morality is, properly, survival behavior above the individual level. Morality evolved to facilitate the survival of a group’s genes in just the same way that the shape of a claw or the configuration of eyes in a species also evolves for this same purpose. All species in the primate order are, to some extent, specialized for intelligence: Man is the most so specialized. Man’s mind is able to conceive of and act upon mental strategies for the survival of his genes, and natural selection makes sure that he does. Hence, moral codes exist.
But humans compete among themselves as much as, and perhaps more than, they compete with other species, and deception is common both as a tactic and as a strategy. Hence, improper moral codes exist: moral codes that do not serve the purpose of preserving the genes of the practitioner group, but which serve the purpose of promoting someone else’s, or some other group’s, genes. Often the “someone else” doing such conning is a member of a group other than the group to which his dupes belong.
Perceiving the difference between proper and improper moral codes can require more intelligence than some people have, and so the cons generally thrive.
* * *