Statement XI

by zenquaker

Here are the first three of the morality derivatives. These are mainly based on the Hippocratic Corollary (C3-2) and the Painless Derivative (D2).

Derivative 3: Abstain from Causing Pain (The Painless Derivative)

Physical pain is the most obvious form of harm. Therefore if we want to abstain from causing harm (The Hippocratic Corollary, C3-2), we should abstain from causing physical pain. We should abstain from violence and reckless behavior that could conceivably cause physical pain.

One of the things most often associated with Quakers is non-violence. Most of the Quakers that I’ve know would never do violence to anyone. But I think we have to look at this in terms of the Hippocratic Corollary. Violence causes pain. Sometimes violently stopping violence can prevent more pain than it causes. Of course, we cannot forget the lessons of King and Gandhi. Non-violence can be a powerful tool, and the right kind of non-violence may result in less total suffering than even a defensively violent response. In the end I think it is clear that aggressive violence is wrong, but defensive violence may or may not be right depending on the situation.

Derivative 4: Abstain from Causing Death (The Deathless Derivative)

Death generally involves physical pain, so we are going to abstain from it in the course of following the Painless Derivative (D-3) then we should abstain from killing. Maybe you could kill someone painlessly, such as with an overdose of narcotics. But we fear death, we yearn to live. The knowledge that you were going to kill someone is going to cause them suffering even if the death is painless. Not only that, we mourn the deaths of those around us. So even a painless, unexpected death could cause suffering to others.

This would generally argue against suicide. I have (had?) chronic depression. I have made at least one serious suicide attempt, and several half hearted ones. For most of my life suicidal thoughts have been constant background noise. So I understand the pull of ending the suffering. But you have to think about those around you. Even though you may refuse to believe it, many of them will suffer deeply. And if you are honest with yourself, you want them to.

Assisted suicide is a different matter, in the sense of old or terminally ill patients who want to die painlessly rather than prolong their own misery. In that case I think suicide is the route of minimal suffering. It is a painless death, the suffering of others is imminent in any case, and the suffering of prolonging the death is eliminated.

Derivative 5: Abstain from Stealing (The Property Derivative)

Stealing from others causes suffering. Stealing can negatively impact a person’s ability to live, causing stress and sometimes actual pain. Even if it doesn’t, people are attached to the things they own, and taking them away will cause suffering. Therefore we should abstain from taking that which is not freely offered.

It might be argued that people’s attachment to their possessions causes their suffering, and that makes it their responsibility. Again, we are not talking about responsibility here. The Negative Derivative is about suffering. Only rarely is the fruit of your theft going to alleviate suffering. The vast majority of theft is to satisfy your own desires. So even if that suffering is their fault, you are still acting to create suffering without alleviating any. Even if you can alleviate suffering through theft, you have to consider whether that suffering can be alleviated in another fashion, so that the total suffering is reduced.

One the things that concerns me is the realm of intellectual property (things like books and movies that are copyrighted). It seems like you are not stealing because there is no object taken. You take a copy, but the author still has their copy. At the same time, you have deprived the author of a potential sale. That loss of income can cause suffering in the same way that taking an object of value does, and so it should be avoided.

Some say that they only pirate things they weren’t going to buy anyway. I find that argument to be worthless. You are taking the copy for nothing when you could pay for it. That is the same as saying “I think this copy is worth nothing.” But that is obviously not true. If the copy was worth nothing to you, you wouldn’t have taken it in the first place. Obviously you think the copy has value, you just disagree with the author about how much value it has. Too bad. The value of things is set through agreement of two parties. You don’t get to unilaterally decide the value of the copy. If you don’t agree with McDonald’s about the value of their hamburgers, you don’t get to buy them for what you think they are worth. Your option is not to buy them. It’s the same with intellectual property.

All that may seem like a shill for the entertainment industry. But I’ve had problems with the entertainment industry and intellectual property ever since CDs replace LPs at a higher cost despite being cheaper to make. I can’t stand a lot of stuff the entertainment industry does. The whole concept of buying a “license” for a copy is offensive to me. Claiming some college kid owes them millions of dollars for downloading a few songs is some of the most egregious corporate greed I’ve heard of. Their manipulation of the legislation and enforcement of IP laws also bothers me. One of the (many) reasons I didn’t vote for Obama was his pick of Biden (who is a shill for the entertainment industry) as VP. And sure enough, the Justice Department went ahead with demanding millions of dollars from that college kid for downloading a few songs.

One might argue that since the entertainment industry is immoral towards us that it is okay to be immoral towards them. In terms of the Negative Derivative, this would require the suffering caused to the IP holder to be less than the suffering caused to us, so that violating copyright law actually reduces suffering. The main problem with that is that it’s a tough assertion to prove. Your suffering is a lack of a piece of entertainment. Their suffering is a lack of a piece of livelihood. How are you going to show that your entertainment is worth more than their livelihood?