AN EXISTENTIAL META-ETHICS: ARGUMENT FOR A RETURN TO ITS ROOTS IN NIHILISM AS A MORALITY

I. PROLOGUE / THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM

A slave begins by demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn. — Albert Camus

The correct answer to the trolley problem thought experiment omnipresent in academic, philosophy, and experimental psychology studies on ethics and morality has finally been revealed through the acts of a two-year-old toddler who despite his age is an old school existentialist and is shown in the YouTube video entitled “A two-year-old’s solution to the trolley problem” at Trolley Problem. The general form of the thought experiment is as follows. You see a runaway trolley moving toward five incapacitated people lying on the tracks. To save them, the option exists to pull a lever thus diverting the trolley onto a side track where it will kill only one person. What do morality and ethics require be the good and evil decisions? The video shows a two-year-old boy happily playing with his trolley set when the Power-that-be in his life consisting of his father interrupts him for an important life lesson on good and evil. The Power puts five pretend persons on one rail line and one pretend person on the other rail line, as the pretend trolley reaches a fork in the one line leading to the two lines with the pretend persons, the Power asks “Oh oh, what do we do now? The train is going to crash into these people”. So, the kid dude takes the single pretend person from the one line, adds them to the five pretend persons on the other line, and then happily pretends to run the trolley over all six then continuing with his play as he was before the Power interrupted him with a stupid experiment dependent on a pretend almost impossible chain of events that serves only to indoctrinate human reasoning into a cold-blooded calculation of unimaginative restricted options. The trolley experiment is more suited to training concentration camp guards as social engineers than in learning anything about good and evil in the supposedly diversity thinking modern social justice world in which clear options are usually nonexistent.

 
Here is a more old school existential experiment in normative thought. You are driving your two seat car by a bus stop and see three people there: 1) a physically injured person trying to get to a hospital; 2) an old close friend that you have not seen in years; 3) someone you recently fell in love with. You can only give one of these people a ride in your car because there is no room for more than two people. So, who gets the ride? The nihilist answer is: let your old friend drive the injured person to the hospital while you stay with your love at the bus stop.

 
The kid’s nihilist response to the Powers’ wordgame of ethics so he can concentrate on his game of trolleys puts him in the true existential hero ranks of Camus’ Sisyphus, Meursault, and the Rebel/Conqueror of Myth of Sisyphus. As with Sisyphus and his boulder, we must leave the video imagining the kid dude happy as he continues in his meaningless task. (If one has a satirical sense of humor normally not allowed in proper company, the music video version of the toddler’s solution is funnier:  “Kids Solution To The Trolley Problem THUG LIFE”. )

 
The true old school existential question in the trolley problem is not concerned with the freedom of the few Powers authentically controlling the trolley switches but with the freedom, if any, of the vast majority of humanity consisting of the individual incapacitated tied to the tracks. That is, of the waiters out there that new school existentialism ridicules for their being too good at their job and therefore inauthentic. As they “hear Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie Deserts of vast eternity” should they abandon all hope and as did Meursault lay their existential “heart open to the benign indifference of the universe” or engage in Kierkegaard’s religious final stage of hope in God to make the existential “qualitative transition of the leap from non-belief to belief”. Or, more practically, given the chance, how many of the Other tied to the tracks would they kill in a Nietzschean will to power act to save themselves? If history is any clue, the answer is pretty much all of them. But, how many are they allowed actually to kill and who is it that decides whether this natural law of survival is the same Natural Law derived from Divine Law that actually allows them the choice for killing of the Other? How do questions of individual life become questions about cosmic Natural Law?

 
Beginning in the modern world with early 19th Century Soren Kierkegaard and continuing to mid 20th Century Albert Camus, it was the contemplation of the meaning or lack of meaning of individual life that was the foundation of existentialism not social engineering. Kierkegaard and Camus sought individual passion for life as the foundation for meaning in life. However, a passionate life by its very nature is existentially the greatest act of discrimination.

 
As the modern world becomes a Technological Society in which by the conceptual and practical necessity of the epistemology of science and of the methodology, economics, and technique of technology, humanity is becoming C.S. Pierce’s “colony of insects” whose group knowledge far exceeds the knowledge of any expendable individual, old school existentialism is needed more than ever. As Orwell accurately predicted, “[b]y comparison with that existing today, all the tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient. … The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now exist[s] for the first time.” Old school existentialism saw the possibility of an individual life of passion despite despair. New school existentialism sees passion and the individual discrimination that passion by necessity creates between that for which we are passionate and that for which we are not as cause of despair not the solution. Rather, it sees social engineering and ethics reducing everything to the needs of cosmic equality as the only hope out of despair thus serving the necessary need of Technological Society to reduce the individual to isolated paper cutout worker bees — genderless; raceless; no ethnicity; no national, group, or social identity; no family or marital allegiance; nor any acceptable sense of community other than their work including academic work; and pretty much eliminating any passion that would threaten the technological collective — while at the same time whining about the technological collective. All individuals are reduced to being a social construct identity but no individual is allowed to be a social construct identity.

 
Passion is the will to power that compels the individual to cut through the meaningless of life to seek that which the individual decides is worthy of singling out, loving, and fighting for either in offense or defense despite the struggle being without hope of victory. Existentialism is supposed to be the enemy of the authoritarian and the collective. Yet, it has become the exact opposite. New school existentialism with its post-modernism and social justice theory has simply hijacked passion to imprison it within aesthetics so that no one notices the passion is gone.

 
Instead of going old school, we get the new school existential groupthink of Rawlsian utilitarianism, structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism, social justice theory, or whatever the Powers-that-be want to call their foundational need for cosmic so-called social justice chaining all individuals to the tracks of their wordgames of ethics and morality — living, dead, or yet to be born — except for the few Powers controlling everyone’s trolley so as to make sure they run over only the individuals they have decided should be run over. Kierkegaard and religion are now irrelevant and subservient to the law and Camus would not even be considered an existentialist any longer just as he denied he was one toward the end of his life because it appears he saw what was coming. Other than serving as an object of satire for Woody Allen movies, old school existentialism has become irrelevant to the class struggle of history.

 
What happened?

 
What happened are the success and aesthetics of Technological Society: its technological material power over the banality of the universe gives the Powers the necessary pragmatics to avoid physical nihilism; and its power of Orwellian propaganda — though it constantly whines about the threat of nihilism — gives the Powers the conceptual power to avoid nihilism as an opponent to its ideology. This propaganda derives its power from the aesthetics of morality and ethics: the ontology present in their wordgame of an objective ultimate value called “good”. Nihilism is a threat to this ontology by making the aesthetics of good and evil equal.

 
Nihilism is the one fear of all successful philosophies: Buddhism seeking the oneness of the whole or the wholeness of the one — which it is, I forget — to the pretend nihilism of Nietzschean continental philosophies worshiping Christianity without a Christ and onto the analytic rationalists and also the empirical pragmatists who all fear the existence of a social ethical and individual moral vacuum in human society as so irrational or so impractical as to make civilization unworkable. This is true even for my boyhood hero Camus and for existentialism as it morphed into social justice engineering. His quote from The Rebel that I use as an epigram is his last genial comment on nihilism and the last intelligent one to have come out of existentialism and its progeny founded on the ramblings of Sartre and his followers’ hijacking of existentialism. Camus goes on in The Rebel to conclude with a condemnation of nihilism:

Nihilistic passion, adding to falsehood and injustice, destroys in its fury its original demands and thus deprives rebellion of its most cogent reasons. It kills in the fond conviction that this world is dedicated to death. The consequence of rebellion, on the contrary, is to refuse to legitimize murder because rebellion, in principle, is a protest against death. — Camus, Albert. The Rebel. p. 285.

Camus came from a dirt-poor background and thus likely did not get to play with trains as a child, so why he eventually chose to adopt socially acceptable philosophy is understandable; though — as I will later contemplate — to his credit he subsequently began to regret his sellout to the Powers before his untimely death. However, even those who must have been able to play with trains in their youth such as the proponent of philosophical phenomenology Bruce Wilshire (who ironically ended his career in philosophy as chair of the philosophy department at Rutgers University which at the time was one of the most dominant analytic philosophy departments in the United States) have nothing good to say about nihilism:

Nihilism means to mangle the roots of our thinking-feeling-evaluating selves, to lose the full potential of our immediate ecstatic involvement in the world around us. It means to lose full contact with our willing-feeling-valuing life-projects to have a shallow sense of what is valuable in human life. It means to be arch, smug, dried out — to be a talking head among other talking heads. Speak and reason as we will, we are no longer moved in our depths. — Wilshire, Bruce. Fashionable Nonsense, a critique of analytic philosophy. State University of New York Press: Albany, NY (2002) p. 2.

If all the Powers and their intelligentsia are all opposed to nihilism, there must be something to it, especially for those that are not in the Powers — either Inner or Outer Party.

 
I will argue that existentialism started with nihilism and it should have ended with it as its meta-ethics foundation for all other existential thought — including for morality and ethics — instead of treating it as an “evil” problem to be solved as does social justice theory in all its forms whether it is the analytic rationalism of a John Rawls or the Nietzschean relativists proclaiming the death of God in order to birth themselves and multiple gods in their image.

 
Meta-ethics seeks to know whether there are properties or attributes common to all instances of the words “good” and “evil” in all their forms as normative universals of ultimate value. The term “normative” as are all words is vague and indeterminate with many uses and usefulness. Meta-ethics deals with the conceptualization of evaluative and perspective normative good and evil. It does not deal with the normative in a descriptive rule-following or descriptive predictive sense (though rule-following will be an issue in meta-ethics) such as for example: “to play chess, one must cannot move the pawn more than two spaces”; “to get to manhattan quickly, one ought to take the subway”; “to help your plant live, give it more sun”; “To get to the moon, follow classical physics”. Meta-ethics deals with good and evil in terms of ultimate value: “honesty is good”; “robbery is evil”; “killing is evil”; “all humans have equal human rights”.

 
The conceptual problems raised by various meta-ethics proposed properties and attributes for the words “good” and “evil” in all their forms as normative universals is well known — varying from the famous Hume’s Guillotine and Moore’s Open Question Argument to J.L. Mackie’s error theory and Susan Neiman’s history of philosophy as an inquiry into the nature of good and evil. Though it is important to seek theories of knowledge that can naturalize morality and ethics or at least by Rawlsian style rationalism link them to knowledge about the world, in many ways this problem in meta-ethics is simply irrelevant to modern society. In Technological Society, because its power of propaganda exists independently of any epistemic worth other than for power as an end in itself (As Orwell wrote in 1984, “God is Power”), it is morality and ethics that now often decide not only what ought to be the state of affairs but what actually is the state of affairs — not just as theory-laden language but ontologically as the language of fact and truth. For example, “gender is a social construct” is no longer a question of fact but of ethics; the Powers want it so, it is so. Thus, given this state of affairs, I will argue that nihilism not only acts as individual morality but also as a theodicy because God is the ultimate nihilist. The following I will argue in this essay are all ontologically true, not just linguistically true as a matter of language based on there being “nothing outside of text” or a similar philosophy of language, but ontologically objectively true — to the extent these words can have meaning — for the concepts of evaluative and perspective normative ultimate valuation of good and evil:

1) In the language wordgames of ethics and morality, there are no objective foundational prescriptive or evaluative values for good or evil in a normative sense though these wordgames always assume objective foundational absolute values. Saying there is no truth is a contradiction and nihilism does not require such inconsistent skepticism toward descriptive reality and truth especially toward scientific truth and this is not the nihilism that I will be contemplating. Saying there are no objective values for ultimate normative good and evil is not a contradiction. Nihilism accepts this lack of value as factual truth.

2) Good is anything that one approves as giving meaning to one’s life. Evil is anything of which one disapproves because it opposes or threatens that meaning.

3) Morality and ethics are distinct conceptual forms of life or wordgames. Morality consists of rules by which an individual analyzes compliance with their Good. Since all rules are talked about by public language, morality seems to be public but ontologically it is an individual construct that exists ontologically only as action. Ethics is a set of rules by which a social group defines what is good for the group. Because groups cannot act except through individuals, ethics is ultimately decided by the most powerful of any social group and thus ethics is always ontologically ruling class ideology.

4) A necessary and final ontological attribute of all morality and ethics is violence. If an individual is unwilling to enforce their morality upon the Other by violence then it is simply habit. An ethics unwilling to enforce its ideology by violence upon the Other is simply etiquette or custom. Ethics reaches perfection as ruling class ideology with a monopoly on violence: that is by becoming law. The more a society is dependent upon ethics and law for its social cohesion, the more a society is dependent upon violence for its social cohesion. To paraphrase the philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine’s comments on science, the language fabric of normative language impinges on experience only at the edge of the dagger hidden beneath the fabric: acting upon its attribute of violence.

5) There is no interpretative language that can logically derive normative language from descriptive language and thus neither moral nor ethical beliefs need be based upon true assertions of fact: one can rationally say without contradiction “it is snowing but I do not believe it is snowing” or “Trump is President but I do not believe him to be President”. Epistemically, the foundation of ethics and morality is having norms that are not based on descriptive reality but on what reality ought to be. This gives ethics and morality the power of being the only descriptive wordgame in which a concept of non-pragmatic truth is more than just a deflationary assertion of what is: one can rationally say “there is no objective basis for rape (murder or whatever) to be wrong but I believe it to be objectively wrong”. However, this creates the weakness that pragmatic truth — that is whether an ethics or morality actually works to solve a problem — and descriptive assertions of what is are irrelevant to ethics and morality. For example, for those of a certain ethics, “Trump is not President” becomes a true assertion of fact regardless of whether he is or is not President because according to the norms of such speakers Trump ought not to be President — and similarly the same could have been said of a Clinton if the election results had been different.

6) Modern Technological Society ruling class ideology will by necessity seek through ethics to have power and control over all individual morality including religious morality just as it needs control over everything else in reality. This necessary methodology serves humanity’s needs as a form of life to discover, explore, and conquer the universe trying to kill both the individual and humanity and requires a building of collective knowledge at the expense of individual knowledge — C.S. Pierce’s “colony of insects” with the individual and their morality expendable if not subservient to ruling class ideology.

7) The early religious existentialist Kierkegaard saw hope for individual meaning for the individual living even in necessary servitude to the arbitrary and random Fates through three ascending stages of what are now called phenomenological experiences: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. The incomplete work of Camus reversed the ascending experience: religious, ethical, and aesthetic. I want to begin anew the early thought of the work of Camus by dissolving all three stages into nihilism as a morality based on action not words for the individual trying simply to find meaning in the unavoidable incapacitating ruling class ideology — its ethics — of Technological Society. An opposition struggle to Technological Society so as to continue historical struggle cannot derive from ethics or even from socially acceptable morality but only from nihilism as a morality.

— The remainder of this essay is found at: AN EXISTENTIAL META-ETHICS: ARGUMENT FOR A RETURN TO ITS ROOTS IN NIHILISM AS A MORALITY

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