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Friday, May 24, 2013

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Fear


Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing a topic that we have not only experienced in our life but also something we experience practically every day: Fear.

Ruel has written an essay for us, link below, and I have also written a few ideas. 

Hello Lawrence,
Here´s is the link to the essay I came up with for Sunday´s PhiloMadrid topic.
Thank you and see you on Sunday.

------ Lawrence------Fear
Fear is the most powerful tool governments have at their disposal. What's attractive about fear is that it is a biological phenomenon, and therefore neutral and amoral, it works all the time, it is very cheap to employ, very effective and, most relevant of all, very expensive for the victim to avoid.

But it is the last characteristic of fear, costly for the victim, which makes it a tool of choice in politics. The way fear is used in politics will determine whether society functions as a free society or a slave society. And as I want to show this matters.

In the state of nature, fear functions to protect us from danger, for example fear of predators, fear of dangerous situations. And like the other emotion, pain, the purpose seems to be to spur us to act to remove the fear or the pain. In both pain and fear the priority is always to stop the pain and fear. The immediate casual effect of fear is to create an unstable state of affairs for the victim.

The reason why I started with fear in a political setting is because politics is the ultimate test of civilisation and reason of human society. But since politics is both the cradle and the guardian of a civilized society, it is always worth exploring how valid is this claim that political power is a necessary force in a society. Furthermore, politics is hardly a state of nature, but fear (and pain) have not exactly disappeared with the advent of society and civilization. Indeed they still occupy a central place in our lives and therefore safe to assume that the also feature prominently in our political life. Fear, of course, can be both from physical danger and psychological pressure.

Modern society, unlike prehistoric societies, functions on cooperation and mutual respect. There are no real genetic ties between those who govern and those governed - the ratio is insignificant. So we cannot argue that society functions because of family genetic links at least not in a society of millions of members. 

Two conditions that help society to function are: a political system and cooperation amongst the members of society. But cooperation does not necessarily mean that the outcome is what we deserve, maybe not even fairly deserve. At the very best we can say that cooperation functions because it establishes equilibrium in a dynamic system. This implies that we really have to question the implied positive feature in the meaning of cooperation. Cooperation does not have an inherent sense of being positive. 

So are there any conditions that would make cooperation a just or fair cooperation? One of these conditions is that parties to a cooperative endeavour must have a dynamic process based on equal strength. One party cannot have a dominant position over the other party. And the reason an unequal position of parties is bound to create fear in the weak party. This also goes a long way to explain why philosophers have been so preoccupied with free will and responsibility. Fear takes away free will, but not necessarily responsibility. 

I have already rejected the idea that cooperation does not automatically imply a positive meaning. In other words cooperation is not automatically something that brings good to us or what I will call categorical good. Basically, a categorical good is something that brings us only benefit (when used properly) or mostly good: water is a good example of a categorical good; someone who receives water when they are thirsty it will mostly be good for them.

However, the outcome of cooperation is always a balanced state of affairs i.e. cooperation is a causal factor for equilibrium. When two parties cooperate to reach an endeavour both parties stand to benefit; at least that's the theory. This should not be mixed up with altruism. When we buy a bottle of water, we are cooperating with the company to pay our money in return for potable water. But equilibrium, at least in the short term, can also be achieved with coerced acquiescence.

In common language we can say that a biological system that is in a state of equilibrium is in a stable state. And there is nothing more valuable to a society than stability. But this does not tell us anything about how this stability was achieved. Stability is a state of affairs in nature and not morality.

But if cooperation is not by default necessarily something that's good for us, then neither does it follow that a stable society is by default a fair and just society.

What matters for nature is the outcome and not the reasons - what matters for society is stability and not chaos or uncertainty. Indeed the society that can overcome uncertainty will thrive because it can plan and predict the future. But what matters for parties on a cooperative endeavour is equality and therefore reason and fairness. And presumably the costs are equally shared amongst the parties as much as the benefits.

But why should someone want to share the costs and the benefits of a cooperative endeavour, when they can pass on the costs to the other party and enjoy all the benefits for themselves?  Indeed fear, being a neutral and amoral emotion, is very cheap to employ, as I said, very effective, and most important of all very expensive for the victim to escape.

To demonstrate that fear is very cheap to employ but expensive to escape, we can take a very neutral hypothetical example of someone with a serious infection. The costs of diagnosing the infections is relatively cheap compared with the treatment and the consequences of the disease.

A question we have to ask is this: is a stable society the product of a cooperative endeavour or the employment of fear? Some might argue that this is an empirical question that has to be answered by some empirical investigation. 

Whatever else we can say about this question, it is indeed a valid philosophical question, because as I have argued, if stability is achieved through acquiescence as a consequence of fear, this would imply an inherent unstable outcome. Unstable because it is also our instinct to try and escape fear and pain. Indeed fear creates an unstable dynamic in a biological system; this is verified with all the revolutions and freedom wars throughout history.

If we look at history we can safely conclude that a society governed through fear might be profitable for a few in the short term, but in the end that society is already determined to fail. Politics power based on fear is unstable politics.

Best Lawrence


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