Principles of morality
Modern society has lost sight of the only moral principle of any importance, so that the individual citizen is basically unprotected against unlimited oppression.
Since the ignored principle is never enunciated, it is difficult to express one’s horror at what already goes on, and at even worse developments that might go on. If someone says, ‘People ought to be heavily taxed in order to pay for state-administered medicine and education’, I am shocked and horrified, but inhibited from replying, ‘People ought to be taxed as little as possible, and certainly not at all to provide funding for organised crime.’
Usually I do not reply in this way, because I realise that prolonged explanation would be necessary. In reality, at least as much explanation should be required to make plausible the idea that individuals should be taxed to provide for greater oppression of individuals by the collective, but one realises that a high proportion of the population has learnt to proceed smoothly to this conclusion without examination, or even recognition, of the underlying assumptions being made.
If I say that people should be taxed as little as possible and least of all to finance collectively organised oppression, this depends on the basic moral principle that society should interfere as little as possible with the individual’s freedom to evaluate for himself the various factors which affect his existential situation, and to react to it as effectively as his resources permit.
The basic moral principle applies between individuals as well, and everyone should respect the right of others to evaluate for themselves the weighting to be placed on the factors which enter into any given situation, since in reality the existential situation is one of total uncertainty.
However, it is only socially appointed agents of the collective, such as doctors, teachers, social workers etc, who are invested with legally conferred powers to impose their valuations on others, and should be deprived of these (immoral) powers.
In fact, in the presence of the modern ideology, the deplorable practice has arisen of taking into account only factors which appear obvious to a large number of people, and assuming that any others should be ignored.
In place of the basic moral principle enunciated above, an alternative one is implicitly assumed. This is apparently an idea to the effect that what is ethical consists of what the majority of people agree to regard as ethical. Dissenting individuals can and should be forced to submit to the views accepted by the majority of people in their society.
As people are subjected to continuous indoctrination in modern society, from the educational system which increasingly regards indoctrination as a primary objective, and from the continuous stream of propaganda being put out by such media as television and newspapers, it is not surprising that nearly universal tendencies to prefer currently fashionable ways of evaluating things are to be observed.
We may suppose that similar unanimities of evaluation were usually found in primitive tribal societies, but a member of modern society under the influence of the prevailing ideology would regard some of the practices of primitive societies as immoral.
This does not present itself to the modern mind as a problem, since there is an implicit belief that the human race has recently arrived at the best possible way of evaluating things, and the way it thinks now is unquestionably right.
On the basic moral principle that the freedom of the individual to form his own evaluations is supremely important, even if in practice the majority of people will adopt the valuations suggested by the ideology which prevails in the culture of their place and time, the functions of society acting on a collective basis should be as limited as possible. As Herbert Spencer suggests, they should be limited to what is necessary to protect the liberty of individuals from encroachment by other individuals.