Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Non-Coercion And Cost-Benefit Analysis In The Face Of Desire

(This is in partial response to the questions I posed here.)

All human relationships (couples, families, tribes, states, supranational organizations) should be viewed from the standpoint of cost/benefit analysis. In other words, the relationship can only be good or useful if it is beneficial to both parties, or at least moreso than it is harmful.

Naturally, this suggests that either party should be free to end the relationship or restructure it drastically if is becomes less beneficial than harmful.

Human relationships, however, should not be viewed merely from the standpoint of the collective as a whole. I believe that the proper perspective is that of a free association of individuals where the individuals are the atomic subject of the society, whatever form it takes.

Individuals naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain and, in this search, seek to maximize their pleasure through their efforts. This search necessarily descends from the concept of individual freedom and free will. People are not determined; they are free actors who should be free to pursue their indivudual wants, free from outside coercion.

Coercion is the most damaging action taken against a free individual and its excess leads to unfree association and slavery (in one way or another).

If, therefore, an individual in any social relationship uses coercion to seek their ends, and this decreases the freedom of the other, this denies the very humanity of the other person or persons involved in this relationship. This should not (but does) happen.

This naturally leads to questions. Can relationships ever "work" in the long run? Be it a couple or a society, can it ever be said that conditions are met for the benefit of all at the expense of none?

At some level, it would seem so. If entered into freely, with the understanding that it may be broken without fault at any time, then the "system" works, right? Well, sort of...

This notion of human interaction (influenced by the likes of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and John Stuart Mill) is predicated on the notion that people are, at their core, rational and seek to act in rational ways. Any person can tell you, however, that it is not always (or perhaps never is) the case. Bertrand Russell famously said that "it has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."

How does the irrational human mind come in contango with the above mentioned notions of free association and societal structure. Well, there are any number of explanations ranging from Hegel's notions of the "search for recognition" and Plato's (or Socrates's) ideas concerning thymos in The Republic to psychologists like, well, everyone from Sigmund Freud to B.F. Skinner to Carl Jung to Abraham Maslow to Rollo May.

Where does this lead? Who can say, really. It is one of those issues that will always be with us: how can irrational being live in a rationally structured society. It seems to me, though, that Hegel's notions about recognition go a long way in explaining that human dignity is only recognized through contact, often hostile, with other people. This may help bridge the gap between the "state of nature" and "civil society" predicted in the distant past (or maybe not at all) by damned near every Western philosophical tradition.

We have to learn to live with each other, we are always told. Is this the nub of the problem or a fact to be dealt with? Is man/woman really a social animal? Political? Rational?


Lost A Sock said...

We really have to learn to live with each other, if for no other reason, everyone needs help at one point or another.

In regards to being free to end or restructure a relationship at any time, I think that's right on. Not only should people be free to do so, they must do it based on the simple fact that people change, and therefore to maintain a relationship long term, restructuring is essential from time to time.

And finally, you are correct, men are irrational. Or, were you referring to "man" as a whole people? ;0)

Matt Jenks said...

Unfortunately, there are things like lawyers and divorce laws and courts and alimony and child support payments that have to be made, preventing the departure, restructuring or cessation of such relationships.