Monday, May 01, 2006


This is the first post of a series on power I have intended to write for a while. I menion it first, to give context, and, second, to make a promise to feel bound to.

To start with the topic of sanction I did not intend but it thus happened. The posts are going to be put in order some day later, if at all. The relation between power and morality, which may seem unclear here, will be also explained, a typology of power will be offered and the idea of exploring the concepts of power as interpersonal relation issue and a social/political issue together instead of separately, will be justified. Unless, of course, I find out I have been wrong .

Sanction/punishment stands at the basis of all types of morality. Morality is not a personal issue. First, because the concept of morality is nonsensical outside of the context of either personal or social relations. And second, because morality is subject of education.

People are egoistic by nature. I generally take this as axiom, but speaking here of education, I would like to point out that this can be very clearly observed among children. Children tend to try and claim everything they feel they need at the moment. The idea that this is not the right thing to do, is being taught to them; adopted by them due to the process of education. People start to consciously accept or reject certain moral postulates at a much later stage. Before that they are being compelled, trained, to act according to certain rules of behaviour. And being unable to perceive the concepts behind these reasons, the only two things that make them act accordingly are the love for their parents/tutors and the fear of sanction. Fear of sanction is much more effective on the low level of small, "insignificant" breaches of the rules because of two reasons - first, because people are egoistic by nature (have I already mentioned that?), and, second, because they are rational. They start being rational incredibly early. Rational enough to think that, ok, I do love my parents but I am actually not hurting them by doing this thing I want to do, so it should be ok. Or later, when grown up - ok, I know I am not supposed to do that, but hey, nobody will get hurt, so it's ok.

Thus the sanction, based on the effective fear of sanction, proves to be the only ultimately effective way to prevent people from being egoistic to an extent when they will hurt others and hurt themsleves. Usually people do not realise they hurt themselves by hurting other people - both in moral/religious terms and in quite rational and practical terms. Grown up people often act like children in this sense - only on a higher, and accordingly - a more devastating level. Therefore the fear of sanction imposed by an authority is the ultimate means of keeping a community together.

To be effective in its preventive funtion, the sanction must be inevitable and the authority, which has the power to impose sanctions must be feared. The sanctions must be effectively and visibly executed.

As a side note to this specific post, I want it to be perfectly clear - in a social context this does not mean that citizens must fear the state on general grounds. They must fear the institutional construct possessing the legitimate power to impose sanction for violation of rules. When the government is breaking the rules itself or the power is illegitimate, the true citizen must have the courage to oppose it - the courage to master exactly this fear. Anyway, the state is not - and should not be - the ultimate moral authority.

And now a very important issue rises - the issue of justice. What is the essence that makes a sanction just? In social/political terms it is the legitimacy of the authority (as representative of the people, or God, or whatever). It is just, because it is not arbitrary but subject to known rules set either by a common agreement or a higher authority. What could justify the sanctions imposed by a parent to their child? Laws only sanction parents who exercise violence - who should not be parents in the first place. Does a parent have the right for instance to effectively forbid the child to go out for a week as a punishment for poor performance at school? Or to slap them when they rush the street without looking? The answer is yes because of responsibility and because of love. Children, beyond any doubt, have an underveloped judgement for many things. Unfortunately so do the adults.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You connect breach of moral rules with hurting others or oneself. I would like to put a question mark here, and remind you to take into account cases when nobody is hurt but the action is still considered immoral: i.e. sexual promiscuity. Think of a woman who makes sex on the first date. Think of s woman who's had a thousand sexual partners.
Not obliging to duties is considered immoral too. Not calling one's parents and not taking care of them. Etc.

Another question mark: the connection between moral and society. Is moral possible outside of society? There is no way to know, but isn't there anything inside of us, that prevents us from acting cruelly? Do we naturally possess pity? Or is pity taught?
Are we educated into feeling gratitude, or is there something within us, that makes us feel grateful?
How come that not hurting others is a priority for us at all? Egoistically, I might decide to kill the person standing in the line in front of me, just so I get to the counter 2 minutes faster. Is this the way I would behave, had I not been raised in a society? I doubt it. There are stages in screwing others for one's own good, and we instinctively know where the borders are.
Sure we are egoistic, but also, we don't wish anybody dead. Screwed would be good, if we can benefit from that. Beaten up and hurt is great, if need be - say we get the food or the female. Killed? Not unless something serious provokes it.
See, it's a system we have, and we trade. There are degrees of "hurt" and degrees of "profit". We match the corresponding levels of "hurt" and "profit". How are we able to do that?

- W.

4:20 pm  
Anonymous Mordred said...

"We match the corresponding levels of "hurt" and "profit". How are we able to do that?"

There's a thing called "Theory of Games". It is about maximising gains and minimising losses. Among other things, it explains the evolutionary observation, that sometimes altruism is better than egotism, from survivalistic point of view.

(When we talk about survival, have in mind that evolution doesn't care about survival of the individual, it cares about survival of the genes. So it is natural for a mother to sacrifice for her child (do not think this is a human-only feature btw)).

So it is natural for individuals to hunt in packs (or to graze in herds). You agree to lose a bit of grass or meat in order to maximise your chances of success.

Which is, when you think of it, the very basis of society.

3:35 pm  

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