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02/11/2004 Archived Entry: "Dave Gross on living morally and ethically"

I CHERISH WHAT DAVE GROSS IS DOING, over on his site, The Picket Line. When Bush invaded Iraq, Dave quit his job and commenced a life experiment in legal tax resistance. He has withdrawn his sanction from slaughter and empire in the most personal possible way.

Some of his blog entries focus on the everyday process of living a more simple, less financially prosperous, more conscious existence. Some, like his February 3 entry, are ruminations on individual morality and responsibility.

After a charming story of three guys who know baseball in various ways (but only one of whom has actually played the game), he writes:

The best way to become virtuous is to practice virtue - informed perhaps by ethical theories but never expecting that you will be able to apply these theories algorithmically as a substitute for conscientious (and fuzzy) judgment.

Being virtuous in ordinary, day-to-day situations is a way to prepare for being virtuous when confronted with difficult, unanticipated and critical situations. If you get in the habit of making good, worthy choices this will strengthen your will in difficult times like no theory can.

How do you know which choices are good and worthy of the virtuous life? Well, I think it can help to be informed by ethical philosophy, and I think there's probably plenty to be absorbed from folklore, literature, religion, and the like. But these aren't to be used purely intellectually, or taken on faith, but should be understood as things that have informed and nurtured a larger ethical "sixth sense" - one that almost certainly needs continuing nurturing. ...

If your actual motives do not match some moral theory you'd like to think you hold, one or the other needs to change. Choose carefully, and then silently, wordlessly, but honestly retell the story of who you are and what you believe.

I wish that the anarcho-theorists who know exactly how life "ought" to be conducted in Libertopia -- but whose own daily lives are filled with tax-paying and other forms of going-along-to-get-along with the state -- would take more of a lesson from Dave Gross.

I also wish that folks who seek an iron-bound principle to govern every single action or interaction between people would look around at the real world. Our principles do (and should) underly our choices. But everyday life consists mostly of gray areas. We make hundreds of daily choices based not on our abstract political, economic, or any other sort of philosophy, but on a broader and much more subtle sense of who we are, how we perceive the many shades of our reality, how we regard our fellow creatures, and how we want them to regard us -- abstractions aside. And thank heaven for that!

Fundamentalist anarcho-capitalist rigidity is no better than any other form of fundamentalist rigidity, when it comes to getting along with our fellow humans and conducting our own lives as fully functional, strivingly moral, individuals. Every political or philosophical theory, no matter how noble-sounding in print, is inevitably cruel when imposed rigidly upon the world of real people.

I propose a test. It applies to anarcho-capitalism or any other philosophy: If a philosopher doesn't even try live by his own philosophy -- and especially if he resents having others hold him to his own stated beliefs! -- then we should question whether the philosophy he espouses has real-world value -- or whether it should rightly be relegated forever to the pages of obscure tomes or little-read Web sites.

Posted by Claire @ 06:49 AM CST

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