2012-08-17

Paladin Knights

Honesty is always the best policy.

When you step outside the realm of pure honesty, your life starts to get incredibly complicated. One of the reasons for this complication is the fact that any bluff you make or game you choose to play with others rests on the behavior of other people. You're no longer in charge of your destiny; you're hanging everything on what someone else will do or say. That's bad.

An Example
Making a good case against interventionist war and an even better case for legalizing immigration, Bryan Caplan writes:
If these are my views, why on earth would I have opposed the Vietnam War?  The same reasons as usual: even the less-evil side engaged in mass murder of civilians and other human rights violations without any strong reason to believe these moral transgressions would lead to sharply better consequences.  The American government did great evil in the name of a greater good that never materialized.  In the end, Indochina got the worst of two worlds: all the horrors of war plus all the horrors of Communism. 

What's especially tragic is that the U.S. could have peacefully saved many millions of the intended victims of Indochinese Communism.  How?  By allowing their immigration.  During a brief period of open borders between North and South Vietnam, a million intended victims of Communism escaped to the modestly freer, richer South.  Imagine how many Indochinese would have gladly emigrated to the far freer, far richer United States if we'd only given them the option.
Caplan is inarguably correct that "Indochina got the worst of two worlds." The US military, and its foes the communists, did some very bad things during its involvement with the Vietnam conflict.
Caplan is likewise correct when he says that "we," i.e. the US government could have humanely and peacefully improved the lives of millions of Vietnamese (and millions of Americans) simply by allowing them into our country to live and thrive.

This would have been the end of the story, had someone nicknamed "roystgnr" not made this insightful comment:
In a world of pacifists, what would the point be to emigration? California isn't geographically much harder to invade than South Vietnam, and it's certainly no less tempting a target, but it happens to house a much larger army of non-pacifists with much better logistics. I agree that the best way for pacifists to defend themselves is "go hide behind some non-pacifists", but free-riding doesn't scale.

It is fairly disingenuous for Americans to proclaim their pacifism, considering that they are all being protected by the largest, most powerful military the world has ever known. Another great example of this is when some Canadians brag about spending far less on their military than "we" do here in America. Yet it is rather obvious that if anyone were to invade Canada, the United States military would come to Canada's defense. Canadians need not spend much on their military because they're "hiding behind" the most powerful non-pacifists in the world.

Pacifism is a wonderful idea in theory, but in practice it is something that people can only profess to believe when they know a non-pacifist will protect them.

In short, nearly all pacifists rest their ideas on the shoulders of a paladin knight.

Lying Is A Conspiracy
Naturally, no genuine pacifist would admit this to himself/herself. Pacifists believe - as they must force themselves to believe - that their principle is hangs on nothing other than their personal sense of ethics. Yet, when placed in a life-or-death struggle, pacifism isn't just illogical, but genuinely unethical in some circumstances.

If, for example, one's pacifism would prevent one from defending one's spouse or children, I assert that such a pacifist has failed at life. There is something to be said for valor and love, too. There is no honor in standing by as one's family is threatened or killed.

So the intellectually honest pacifist is one who espouses the non-aggression principle, rather than pure pacifism. The intellectually dishonest pacifist instead stands on the shoulders of his paladin and pretends that the paladin isn't there.

One of the frustrating things about dealing with our fellow human beings is the extent to which people bluff, hedge bets, and otherwise play mind games with each other. If everyone were open and honest, life would be easy. (But, it would also be incredibly dull, because in that case there would be no such thing as strategy, no such thing as Game Theory.)

The reality, though, is that people just aren't honest with themselves or others. What we all seem to want is the ability to believe in our own particular fantasy. When dealing with others, often what we want is for them to enable us in our fantasies. We want to believe what we believe and we don't want to be messed with.

The problem with this point of view is the existence of the paladin knight on whose shoulders we're all standing. Whenever we engage in any kind of dishonesty someone, somewhere is allowing it to proceed. Every lie requires a co-conspirator, or a big gun, or a big sword to back it up. That's the paladin knight, and he/she is always a real person. Without that collateral, none of us would ever lie.

Put another way, we only delude ourselves and others because we can get away with it. Often it is the person being lied to who allows it to happen, in which case both parties pretend that the lie is true in order to smooth things over.

It is remarkably odd.