Three Rival Ethical Codes

Yesterday I was discussing the river engineer and his belief that “health” was “our highest good”. I contrasted the ill-defined notion of health with my mathematical-physical concept of idleness (from Idle Theory) as a much better candidate for being our highest good. Utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham would have said that “happiness” is our highest good. So straight away there are three rival candidates for the highest good: “health”, “idleness”, and “happiness”.

Why is anybody trying to figure out what might be our highest good? The answer, I think, is that in the western world at least, the old Christian moral cosmos with its One God, and its Heaven and Hell, has become obsolescent, and we’re trying to replace it with something else. We no longer believe that when we die we will face judgement for our sins, and live on in an afterlife in either Heaven or Hell. So we no longer think that there are long term consequences for what we do. And for some people that is taken to mean that anything goes. In losing Christianity, we’ve lost our moral compass. And that’s one reason why a dwindling remnant of Christians clings on to Christianity: they can’t see any new moral code to replace it with. It may also be why Islam is resurgent, because Islam doesn’t seem to be facing the same crisis as Christianity.

Why has the Christian cosmos become obsolescent? Because we no longer think about life and death in the way we used to do. In the past (and for many thousands of years before Christianity) it was thought that living people were vitalised by an immortal soul, and that when they died their immortal soul lived on. But these days we tend to see living people (and animals and plants) as powered by energy from the Sun, rather than vitalised by a soul. And we think that when we die there is no afterlife for our soul to live on in, and that we live brief lives of a few decades into which everything has to be packed, and that there will be no reward for us in Heaven, and no punishment in Hell.

Heaven and Hell now have to be crammed into the span of a single lifetime. And so we are now in process of recreating Heaven and Hell on Earth. In our prisons and labour camps and death camps, we have been pretty good at recreating Hell. And perhaps in our holiday camps or holiday islands we’ve recreated a little bit of Heaven.

The other problem we have, as our soul-based account of life is replaced by an energy-based account of life, is that our mathematical-physical model of the universe doesn’t seem to have a moral dimension to it. It describes how the universe is, but it offers no advice about how it ought to be. So we are falling between two stools. One stool is the departing Christian moral system, and other stool is the emergent (and currently amoral) mathematical-physical description of the world. We are betwixt and between.

Might it be possible to discover a new system of ethics in our emergent energy-based mathematical-physical description of the world? Might there be something there which we’ve missed, or not yet seen?

As candidates to replace the old Christian One God, I’ve postulated three. The first is the current reigning cult of “Health”. The second is Utilitarian “happiness” or “pleasure” or “satisfaction”. And the third is the “idleness” of Idle Theory.

The big problem with “happiness” or “pleasure” is that it’s a psychological attribute, and there’s no obvious way of measuring it. It’s incommensurable. We don’t have happiness meters. Nor, even though “health” is much more of a physical than a psychological attribute, do we have health meters to measure how healthy people are. So both “happiness” and “health” are rather vague, amorphous, and ultimately useless ideas. But “idleness” is a physical attribute that is measurable with clocks. In an ordinary working week, for example, we have two weekend idle days  and five working days in every seven day week, so we have an idleness of very roughly 2/7 or  28%.

And our idle time is also free time in which we can do as we like, rather than do as we are commanded by our employers during the working week. The “weekend” is our modern two-day Christian “sabbath”. If we have this extended sabbath, it is because thanks to our modern machines we are able to perform the work needed to maintain ourselves alive more quickly than we used to only a few centuries ago, and we had 6 day working weeks and an idleness of 14%. We have more free time. And we have holidays on top of the weekends. And we have all sorts of luxuries and amusements to enjoy in our idle time (e.g. video games). If economic growth is anything at all, it is growth in social idleness. And this economic growth is a painstakingly slow process that has taken place over many thousands of years, beginning in the Stone Age and continuing through the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, and now proceeding at almost breakneck speed.

The cosmos of Idle Theory is populated at one end by living things with idleness approaching 0%, and at the threshold of death, and at the other end by living things with idleness approaching 100%, and theoretically immortal. And so its cosmos has Life at one end, and Death at the other. Or it has Idle Life at one extreme, and Busy Death at the other extreme. Which is to say that it recreates Heaven and Hell at its two extremes. And it also recreates a Divinity at one extreme, and a hyperactively busy Demon or Devil at the other end. And with human life and other forms of life suspended somewhere in between the two extremes. In short, it reconstructs the Christian cosmos, but using a new terminology. And its long term vision is one of very slow ascent from low idleness to high idleness, over many thousands of years, always accompanied by the danger of a relapse (or Fall) to a lower level of idleness, and into a busier, more hard-working life.

And in this new cosmos, what is good is what increases idleness, and what is evil is what decreases it. And so murder is an evil because it deprives a living thing of its idle time. And theft is an evil because it deprives someone of some lesser amount of their idle time. And nuisances like barking dogs and noisy railway trains are evils because they deprive people of small amounts of their idle time. The scale or degree of any evil is measured by the amount of idle time it costs anyone. And the scale of any good – like roads and water and electricity supplies – is measured by the increased idle time it provides.

By contrast, the adoption of “health” as the highest good offers no ethical guidance whatsoever. Or if it measures anything at all, it only measures longevity of life. It has no measure of the quality of life, only its duration. But Idle Theory offers the idleness of any life as a measure of the quality of that life. So in the healthist maximum longevity model, a 70 year life is worth more than a 50 year life, while in Idle Theory the length of a life must be multiplied by its idleness to give its value, so that a 50 year life lived at 90% idleness is worth 45 years of idle time, and a 70 year life lived at idleness of 20% has a value of 14 years of idle time. Longevity or “health” is not what matters most of all. And in fact with their smoking bans the health zealots have taken away the idle time that smokers used to enjoy in pubs and cafes, simply in order to prolong their lives by a few more months or years. I used to enjoy about an hour every single day in a pub or cafe, but for the past 10 years thanks to their smoking ban I have only enjoyed about an hour a week in them (or rather, outside them). So they have so far cost me 3,170 hours of idle time, without any compensating length in the longevity of my life – because I haven’t stopped smoking. And since there are about 10 million smokers in the UK, the smoking ban has so far cost them something like 31,700,000,000 hours idle time in total. Surely the health zealots should be sent to prison! Perhaps they should even be summarily executed! We would all be much better off without them.

And this, in principle, is how Idle Theory’s ethical system might be used to attack and destroy the Healthist ethical system. And in this it might find an ally in the Utilitarian ethical system, if it can be argued that the UK’s 10 million smokers have been a lot more unhappy over the past 10 years than the UK’s 10,000 or so health zealots have been happier.

Idle Theory offers a restoration of something very like the lost Christian moral cosmos, but with a new set of meanings for most of its terminology. And it also offers a mathematical-physical description of that cosmos, and provides a moral dimension to physics that it has hitherto lacked. And it offers an intellectual army with which to contest the reigning, highly destructive Healthist dogma. What, if anything, is missing?

 

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About Frank Davis

smoker
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17 Responses to Three Rival Ethical Codes

  1. Rose says:

    Are you at risk? Here’s why lung cancer has skyrocketed among non-smokers
    Aug 13
    “LUNG cancer rates have skyrocketed among non-smokers as fears grow that high levels of air pollution are behind the rise.
    The number of people dying from the disease who have never smoked will overtake deaths from smoking-related lung cancer within a decade, research suggests.”
    http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/840366/Lung-cancer-non-smokers-linked-to-pollution-climate-change

    Not a hand waver or stinker to be seen in the comments,

  2. Roobeedoo2 says:

    ‘What, if anything, is missing?’

    A ‘bible’? A narrative for belief to be strung?

    May I suggestion the first line for the first line of Genesis (or Gene-International Social Impact Survey, if you will)…

    ‘1.1 Life came from God’s butt. ²Science has declared it so. ³Experts have said and studies have shown and all that jazz.’

    https://underdogsbiteupwards.wordpress.com/2014/04/23/life-came-from-gods-butt/

  3. Dirk says:

    Are you a Christian i.e. a believer in an almighty god who undertakes a suicide mission in order to forgive humanity for its sins? Couldn’t this god have said: I forgive you, instead of going through a blood sacrifice? And a god having a son, although the son and the father are one? A god who cannot die, so the crucifixion is ridiculous.
    Anyway, as always, I enjoy your writings and I find that I always agree with you regarding smoking.

  4. Rhys says:

    I think also there’s a focus on physical immortality with the anti-crowd. Or am I the only one who’s had a conversation with one and almost blurted out ‘Yes, I know non-smokers live forever, unlike the rest of us…’ because of how they were speaking?

    They’re always talking about what a horrible death lung cancer is, as if there weren’t a whole lot of other horrible way to die.

    Is that part of what’s underneath the obsession with healthism? It’d explain some of it, from no smoking to no fireworks, to the government deciding what we eat, to children must never be left unattended outside, even if they’re teens, because we must have a risk-free society. Then we can all live forever. But in a society that’s going the way this one is, worldwide, what sane person would want to?

  5. Rose says:

    “Yes, I know non-smokers live forever, unlike the rest of us…”

    Not since yesterday.

    Air pollution is blamed as lung cancer rates among non-smokers double in just a decade
    12 August 2017

    “Number of lung cancer cases among non-smokers are expected to top smokers”
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4783676/Air-pollution-blamed-non-smokers-lung-cancer.html

    Lung cancer deaths ‘to double among those who have never smoked’ raising fear pollution to blame
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/lung-cancer-non-smokers-mortality-rates-air-pollution-smoking-cancer-research-uk-royal-brompton-a7889431.html

    And in quite a few other papers.

    Still, at least they have been able to live carefree lives without ASH threatening them with a horrible death and extorting money from them.

  6. Joe L. says:

    Another excellent post, Frank. I’m glad you focused on this today; Healthism gaining popularity during a time when society has become increasingly secular is something that’s been on my mind for a while now, and has popped up in a handful of my comments here over the past few months.

    By contrast, the adoption of “health” as the highest good offers no ethical guidance whatsoever.

    As I stated in my comment on May 1, I think Healthism actually offers unethical guidance. The Healthists’ goal of “maximum health,” or longevity/immortality is a completely selfish goal. Healthism shares more similarities with hedonism, but instead of seeking pleasure, Healthists seek immortality, no matter the cost to others. There is no equivalent of the Golden Rule or concept of goodwill toward fellow man in Healthism. Conversely, Healthism encourages people to hold their fellow man in contempt if they feel that said fellow man may be doing something that is believed to compromise their personal health.

    However, I’m not sold on the idea that an ethical system built around Idle Theory would be any better than an ethical system built around Health. With Idle Theory, one lives better if one has more idle time. Therefore, a belief system would encourage everyone to seek the maximum idle time possible. Thus, people would be encouraged to steal from others as long as the item stolen increases their idleness. The theft of the item will surely decrease the idleness of the victim, but as long as the thief doesn’t rely on the services of the victim, the decrease in the victim’s idleness has no direct effect one the thief’s idleness, so the result is considered a pure gain in idleness for the thief. Therefore, like with Healthism, the ends justify the means no matter the effect on others, thus the theft is justified.

    There is no mechanism built in to Idle Theory to promote morality, only selfishness. At least with Utilitarianism, the measurement to decide whether the ends justify the means is supposed to take into consideration the overall delta in happiness among all involved parties. Even if you were to encourage taking into consideration the cumulative change in idleness among all parties, an ethical system built around Idle Theory would be no better than Utilitarianism.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think Idle Theory is a great theory that seems to be very sound. However, it shouldn’t be tainted by trying to build a belief/ethical system around it. Otherwise, “Idleism” just might become the new Healthism.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Therefore, a belief system would encourage everyone to seek the maximum idle time possible. Thus, people would be encouraged to steal from others as long as the item stolen increases their idleness.

      That would be true if there was a fixed or constant social idleness. People would then only be able to increase their own personal idleness at the expense of someone else – in a zero sum game. And in fact that’s exactly what happened for thousands of years using the institution of slavery. Slave owners enjoyed lives of leisure while their slaves did all their work for them.

      But that isn’t the only way that somebody’s idleness can be increased. The construction and use of idleness-increasing tools will result in an increase of idleness if their value in use (in increased idleness over tool lifetime) exceeds their cost of construction (in decreased idleness). I discuss this in Idle Theory, showing first the cost C in idle time entailed in making the tool, followed by the gain in idle time V from using it.

      Take for example a road between two towns. It takes a lot of work (in the form of reduced idle time C) to level the ground and build up a firm, level road surface of stones. But when horses and carts and trucks and bicycles start using the road when it’s complete, it speeds travel (and trade) between the two towns. People using the road can conduct their business more quickly than before, when there was no road. And this brings an increase in idleness, and some net saving of time V, for all the road users for however long the road lasts before needing to be rebuilt or repaired, where V greatly exceeds C. If some of the road users are traders transporting goods, their time savings may be passed on to their customers in reduced prices. In this manner the whole of society enjoys an increase in idleness as a result of having the road. And this is how social idleness can be increased. And the use of other tools – e.g. carts, bicycles, cars – may increase social idleness still further. Everybody has more idle time. And it has not been gained by stealing it from somebody else.

      There is no mechanism built in to Idle Theory to promote morality, only selfishness.

      On the contrary, idleness-increasing innovation and industry and trade of every kind are encouraged, and idleness-redistributing (and reducing) theft is discouraged. It’s a profoundly moral system.

    • beobrigitte says:

      However, I’m not sold on the idea that an ethical system built around Idle Theory would be any better than an ethical system built around Health. With Idle Theory, one lives better if one has more idle time. Therefore, a belief system would encourage everyone to seek the maximum idle time possible.
      What about quality of idle time rather than quantity? To me a couple of hours with good friends, having a good belly laugh is far better than 12 hours just idle time being on my own.

      Don’t get me wrong, I think Idle Theory is a great theory that seems to be very sound. However, it shouldn’t be tainted by trying to build a belief/ethical system around it.
      I fully agree with this.

      • Joe L. says:

        What about quality of idle time rather than quantity?

        Unfortunately, “quality” is subjective, and therefore unquantifiable, thus there is no way to measure it. Idle Theory only considers the amount of idle time; how that time is spent is irrelevant to the theory itself.

  7. legiron says:

    Religion is being replaced with new religions. Climatology, The Church of Punch a Nazi, The Genderless God, and many others. These do not have the same moral code as Christianity, they have much more in common with the totalitarian diktats of Islam. Could be why they all have such affinity with that particular religion.

    Anyway, I wondered if Idle Theory, health and happiness are all connected. When I worked 6 hours a day, 6 days a week (sometimes a 7 day week for weeks at a time, and still selling on eBay just to cover bills!) I had hardly any idle time. I was too tired to enjoy it and it certainly didn’t help my health. Physical fitness, yes, but too tired to enjoy it. Now I have lots of idle time because of things that happened and admittedly, I’m starting to spread out a bit in the middle again. Have to watch that!

    Maybe it’s the title, but ‘idle time’ suggests lounging in the sun sipping cocktails. That’s not how I see it, it’s not how I use that time. It would drive me nuts with boredom.

    My ‘idle time’ might be spent gardening or building models or taking photos and meddling with them on the computer or writing. All these things also increase happiness and happiness is linked to health. Miserable people have suppressed immune systems. They get sick more often than happy people.

    So really, if you want healthy happy people, you need to let them have more idle time.

    If they choose to spend that time on the sofa, watching crappy TV, swigging beer while wearing a stained string vest and saggy Y fronts, it won’t help them – but that’s their choice. I choose to do things in my idle time. Others might choose to take it literally.

    But I do think it’s all connected.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Maybe it’s the title, but ‘idle time’ suggests lounging in the sun sipping cocktails. That’s not how I see it, it’s not how I use that time. It would drive me nuts with boredom.

      My ‘idle time’ might be spent gardening or building models or taking photos and meddling with them on the computer or writing.

      Well, idle time can be spent lounging in the sun sipping cocktails, and I do exactly that sometimes. But I also spend my time building (computer) models, and writing my blog, and reading, and any number of other things. Idle time can be used for any purpose whatsoever.

      And I agree that Idle Theory (or idle time) and health and happiness are all connected. Hard physical work of any sort often exacts a toll on the human frame in the form of broken bones, pulled muscles, repetitive strain disorders, failing eyesight, and so on – in short in reductions of health. And I personally always used to be happier at weekends rather than during the working week.

  8. Lepercolonist says:

    I would love to remove all drudgery from my life. Shoveling snow, mowing grass, doing laundry,cleaning the house,paying the bills,etc. I notice wealthy people do not do any of these
    dull and menial jobs. This drudgery is compounded by having a repetitive, monotonous, boring job. No wonder workers enjoy a cigarette.

  9. Sackerson says:

    Interesting.

    You give a yardstick, but not a reason why we have to use it – the is/ought problem remains.

    But you show a way to quantify freedom.

    Funny how people who have idle time then set themselves sometimes arduous, dangerous and painful challenges.

    Using your system, killing an infant would be a far greater crime than the murder of a grown man, and killing a very old person would be almost inconsequential – wouldn’t it?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Using your system, killing an infant would be a far greater crime than the murder of a grown man, and killing a very old person would be almost inconsequential – wouldn’t it?

      Almost, but not quite.

      As I see it, the value of my life to me is the remaining idle time I may expect to enjoy in it. So on the last day of my life, it will be almost entirely valueless. By contrast, an infant which could expect to live a long and fairly idle life would regard its own life as highly valuable.

      But apart from being valuable to themselves, people are also valuable to other people. And in this case, the valuations are almost exactly reversed. The helpless infant is a burden to its parents. As a child it becomes less of a burden. And finally as an adult he becomes a useful and productive member of society. And finally, as an old man he often becomes someone who has a great deal of experience, and a memory of things that happened long ago.

      So it all roughly balances out, when all the valuations are taken into account.

      We value ourselves for our idle time. But we value others for the work they can do for us, and thereby relieve us of.

      In antiquity, a busy slave would have placed little value on his own life. But a slave-owner would have placed great value on his slaves.

      You give a yardstick, but not a reason why we have to use it – the is/ought problem remains.

      Perhaps the problem does indeed remain. Or perhaps it doesn’t.. For it seems to me that in observing that people habitually find quicker ways to do things (and are more idle as a consequence), I don’t have to tell them what they ought to be do, because they do it anyway.. When somebody asks me the way to somewhere, aren’t they always asking me the quickest way there? Or should I inquire whether they want the shortest route, or the long scenic route?

      Or if I do tell someone how they ought to do something, am I not trying to show them a quicker way to do it? “Here, this is the way you ought to chop up logs. You’re doing it all wrong.” The way you ought to do something, and the right way to do it, is the quickest way. Of course people may want to linger over something, perhaps because they want to do a high quality job, put a sharper blade on a knife. But that’s because the sharper knife will make for quick work when it’s put to use.

      you show a way to quantify freedom.

      It’s one way of doing so. I think of freedom as free time: a very concrete thing. Not some abstraction.

      Funny how people who have idle time then set themselves sometimes arduous, dangerous and painful challenges.

      Like climbing mountains? Perhaps they do such things because they can.

  10. beobrigitte says:

    Why is anybody trying to figure out what might be our highest good? The answer, I think, is that in the western world at least, the old Christian moral cosmos with its One God, and its Heaven and Hell, has become obsolescent, and we’re trying to replace it with something else.
    I don’t think we’re trying to replace the old Christian moral cosmos; it is unobtainable right here and right now, so there had to be a new god called “Health” with it’s temple being our bodies and it’s easy to dictate conformity.

    By contrast, the adoption of “health” as the highest good offers no ethical guidance whatsoever. Or if it measures anything at all, it only measures longevity of life. It has no measure of the quality of life, only its duration.
    The lack of INDIVIDUAL quality of life – especially for those in their “autumn of life years” – sure enough must be the new hell. Old people must be punished for still existing, especially those who enjoy a glass of wine and smoke.

    Healthism is something again that lacks long term thinking. What are the healthists going to do with demented/frail people? And none of their apostles, as can be expected, appear to have thought about that, too.

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